ALERT – Accessing Learning through Responsive Teaching
South Africa’s social inequality is mirrored in its education system. Five dimensions of inequality are identified in various research efforts (race, fees, school status, province and quintile) that are, quite simply, different refractions of the same underlying inequalities. Research shows that differences in the quality of the teaching in schools designated African, Coloured, Indian or White during the Apartheid era account for a significant amount of the difference in the performance of learners. This exacerbates inequality on the basis of socioeconomic status.
The ALERT (Accessing Learning through Responsive Teaching) initiative recognises that developing teacher content knowledge and pedagogical depth is critical if we are to systemically improve education. Pedagogic knowledge is specialised knowledge, a discourse based on a theory of development (learning). It is not a collection of best practice routines that can be cobbled together to fit a script. Pedagogical know-how resides within the teacher; it is a set of decisions, taken in the context of ‘conflicting imperatives’ of the pedagogical moment. However, reflective, knowledge-based teacher practice that can unlock learning in marginalised communities is unlikely to develop spontaneously in the over-extended, emotionally harrowing spaces that are most South African classrooms. It is also not readily developed by restricting experience to well-resourced communities.
ALERT aims to establish a ‘pedagogy incubator’, in collaboration with education researchers at the University of Cape Town’s School of Education. The mission of the project is to assemble a range of teachers (e.g. newly qualified teachers eager to improve their practice, and teachers who wish to contribute to finding effective pedagogies for marginalised youth) to collaborate within a community of practice. They will draw on research insights from the education partners and work with the most marginalised children to master the transition from Foundation Phase, and successfully – joyously – complete the Intermediate phase of school.
ALERT is committed to the development of responsive teaching practice that will make use of a deeper, theorised pedagogical understanding and repertoire to unlock a different orientation to learning and engagement with knowledge in marginalised children, through the immersion of teachers in reflective practice (a pedagogy incubator).