Tongue-tied over acronyms

Heather Bensch, an English teacher at Grosvenor Girls’ High in Durban, finds OBE-speak confusing

ANC, PAYE, UIF, APEC, Sadtu, DP, WWW ... South Africans are getting pretty au fait with juggling acronyms about, but for high school teachers, 2001 is a whole new BG (Ball Game)! As our first group of outcomes-based education (OBE) learners arrive nervously at our school gates, complete with room-to-grow school shoes, sweaty palms and unfashionably long regulation skirts, so does a veritable host of new abbreviations accompany them. This is to the perplexity of the uninitiated secondary school educator, who feels vastly inferior to her primary school colleague, who has bouquets of initials dripping off her tongue with the ease of the veteran OBE-ite.

I asked some of my shiny new learners what their favourite subjects were - a simple enough opening, you would think?

“I’m fond of MLMMS but I struggle with HSS and Tech.”

“My best is LLC.”

“I can’t do EMS but LO is interesting.”

Silly me to have left my 5kg lever-arch file of Learning Areas in my car this morning, thinking I could just chat to them about their subjects, and get to know them.
It doesn’t really inspire kids to have faith in their daunting high-school teacher, when she can’t understand what they are saying. I mean, kids aren’t supposed to be the ones who talk clearly and slowly to the adult to make sure the adult can keep up! It is not enough, anymore, to keep abreast of who the Backstreet Boys are and what Kwaito music is, if you want to earn their respect. I had just learnt what INSYNC and TLC were, and of course SWAK is still being written on the envelopes of love letters, just as it was in my day, but now I have to contend with teenagers who are more familiar with syllabus terminology than I am.

I told them I was heading down the road to the AA, ASAP if I wasn’t pronounced DOA from PTSS before I got there, but being grade 8s, they stared at me blankly. Obviously OBE hadn’t taught them humour.

Preparation for each new day no longer takes a couple of hours each evening. Now, I find myself searching for outcomes, clarifying SIs, dreaming up ingenious methods of peer assessment, checking my PIs, and deciding with which other LA I can link up. Then, five hours later and one worksheet down, I realised I had forgotten the content! But it looks positively glowing with OBE, anyway.

Bear with me if I sound frustrated and slightly un-PC. I am a little worried about my aforementioned, OBE-conversant, fully competent, junior school colleagues reading this. By this stage, they must be looking pretty far down their noses at my inability, inflexibility and incapability to adapt to the new system, but I assure you, I have not given up yet. Not being educated in an OBE system myself, I fear I missed out on learning the skills of patience and problem-solving with ease.

If anyone out there feels as lost as I do, then I have achieved one outcome in writing this: that educators can draw strength from the fact that we are all in the same boat, sailing in this murky alphabet soup.

If anyone reading this feels smugly confident that they have mastered what the rest of us are struggling with, then I have achieved a second outcome by default (at the OBE course, they told us we might find that we master another outcome unintentionally!) So perhaps I have made you feel more confident and assured.

As for me - I’ll just continue trying to keep my head above water, but if you hear the alarm, you’ll know it’s me, sending out an SOS to help me understand OBE.

Send us your “A Day in My Life”, with a photograph, and if we publish it, we will pay you R700.

—The Teacher/Mail & Guardian, March, 2001.

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