Textbook case of racism

Published Oct 23, 2016


THE content of a textbook designed to compare so-called Western norms and values against traditional African culture has received flak from various quarters.

In a hard-hitting assessment in Platinum English First Additional Language Grade 9, published by Pearson SA, pupils are required to read about a young girl who leaves her home in EmaThondwane in rural KwaZulu-Natal to attend a boarding school in Pietermaritzburg.

The comprehension is written by Thishiwe Ziqubu, and is an extract from Black Stone.

An extract from the workpiece reads: “My friends at school did not know I was a farm girl. I made up many stories about a rich businessman father and his white 
lawyer wife, my stepmother. I told them of imaginary mansions in uMhlanga Rocks. I resented the mud houses and grass houses I really came from.

“Every holiday for the next seven years, I went back to EmaThondwane. I began to hate it there. During the five-hour taxi ride from Pietermaritzburg to EmaThondwane, I thought only about January, when I would be back in Laverna, back in civilisation. When I could speak English again.

“For the next month I would be confined to Zulu, the only language the uneducated villagers know. When would these six weeks end so I could be with Mary-Anne and Antoinette from school?”

After reading the comprehension, the pupils then have to copy words and phrases into a table, with two headings: Traditional African experiences and Modern Western experiences.

The words and phrases pupils have to place include: coarse black hair, dieting,
mansions and English.

The book has been in 
circulation since 2014.

Provincial education spokesperson Paddy Attwell said the book was catered for in the national catalogue of textbooks published by the Department of Basic Education, and he could not say yesterday how many schools in the province used it.

National Education Department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said they could not verify the content of the book yesterday.

Pearson spokesperson Ursula Ndhlovu said the scenario in the comprehension is a reality for many South African pupils, and the piece asks pupils to consider the emotions the young girl is experiencing.

“The piece in the textbook tells the story of a young, rural girl sent to boarding school and of her experiences while trying to fit into her new environment… Pearson meant no disrespect in this content, only to ensure that content is relatable and carries an important message and learning context.

“Pearson will, together with the Department of Education, revisit the full exercise in this Grade 9 English textbook and consider next steps in regards to the content,” Ndhlovu said.

Oxford University PhD 
candidate Natasha Robinson is doing her thesis on post-conflict education and is analysing pupils’ understanding of their role in South African society.

Robinson, who is analysing a range of books used in the country’s school curriculum, noticed the chapter in the textbook and said it implied to the pupils that Western culture was superior to African culture.

“It sets up Western culture as being the ideal, and in a country and world with diverse cultures it is not healthy. 
It’s untrue and unfair,” said Robinson.

Equal Education Policy and Training head Leanne Jansen-Thomas said the
advocacy group was stunned at the inappropriateness of
the content.

“Textbooks are one of the most potent influences in the way pupils engage with the world. In other words, textbooks have a significant impact on children’s perceptions of themselves and of others,” said Jansen-Thomas.

She said a recent assessment by the Human Sciences Research Council had uncovered, and confirmed, all manner of discrimination and bias in 40 textbooks across all grades.

“That specific research found that women leaders and black professionals were entirely absent from many textbooks.”

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