Meeting the challenge

A new project has been launched to help teachers tackle issues of diversity in the classroom in a constructive way.

RESPECTING and celebrating the differences between people are goals most South Africans (hopefully) aspire towards.

Most of us know, however, that the legacy of so many years of apartheid makes these aims more difficult than they may seem. Educators, who are grappling with multicultural, multiracial, multi-ethnic and multi-faith classrooms, know this only too well.

Since democracy arrived six years ago, little assistance has been given to teachers—or the rest of society—to help build a country that is both rich and harmonious in its diversity. Racial, ethnic and religious tension has been rife in schools since the end of apartheid paved the way for the integration of our classrooms. Often enough, teachers have had to battle out these problems in isolation, with little help from the school principal or the broader parent community. In some schools, a “head in the sand” approach has been taken. Events have shown, however, that ignoring the problems does not make them go away.

Frequently, violence has erupted in the playground and ugly incidents have at times spiralled into all out warfare between whole communities—as in the case of Vryburg High two years ago.

Some schools have attempted to deal with the challenges of racial and ethnic diversity in their schools in a superficial way, by celebrating cultures as though they are little more than curiosities or tourist attractions. In other schools, principals and teachers have risen to the challenges thrown up by integration, and have gone to great lengths to make all pupils and teachers feel at home, ensuring their teaching corps is culturally and racially mixed, introducing sports which are suitable to all children, engaging children and teachers in open discussion about racism, xenophobia, sexism, prejudice against the disabled, those living with Aids, etc, and dealing with problems that arise in a sensitive way.

But when it comes to actual teaching practices, many teachers are at still at sea. There are few learning and teaching materials available to help them to teach a culture of human rights.

But help is at hand. The Teacher, in partnership with the Electoral Institute of South Africa, Kagiso Television and the Human Rights Commission, is launching a project called “Celebrating Diversity”, funded by the Mott Foundation. With this project, schools will receive teaching materials through The Teacher (in the form of resource pull-outs), that will help teachers tackle issues of diversity in the classroom in a constructive way. A set of resource pages and videos will be developed. Starting this month, there will be a series of 12 resource pages. The videos, made by Kagiso Television, will complement the resource pages. Focus groups are being held at several schools around the country, to give the material developers a sense of the problems schools are grappling with and to test the learning materials. Several training workshops will also be held for teachers throughout the 18-month long project.

SAHRC plans tolerance training


The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has opened an educational centre for the promotion of human rights education.

The National Centre for Human Rights Education and Training (Nachret) aims to respond to the demand for human rights education by producing both materials and training programmes. Speaking at the launch of the centre, Andre Keet of Nachret said, “It is our aim to infuse a culture of human rights in the daily life of practitioners such as social workers, the police and teachers.” It is hoped that this will result in a greater degree of tolerance in society as whole.

Tolerance of differences in race, religion, culture and gender are issues that need to be discussed in regard to teaching and schools. Teachers are an important group being targeted for human rights education training by Nachret.

Chairperson of the SAHRC Barney Pityana said human rights are “intrinsic to the society we wish to become”. The centre will “vigorously pursue human rights education in line with the objectives set out for the United Nations decade of human rights [1996-2005]”, said Pityana.

In his keynote address, the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Penuell Maduna, said that the centre is a “very important milestone in the evolution of a human rights culture in South Africa”.

SAHRC (011) 484-8300

—The Teacher/Mail & Guardian, August 30, 2000.



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