Tshegofatso Rasekgotoma is a literacy advocate.
Tshegofatso Rasekgotoma is a literacy advocate.

It is appalling what some textbooks are teaching our children

By Tshegofatso Rasetgotoma Time of article published Jun 21, 2020

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How do parents react when, while helping their child with a school project, they come across a page full of misrepresentation and distortion of their history and that of their ancestors, in a textbook meant to help shape their child’s perception of who they are? 

With shock.

This is the case with the Oxford Successful Social Science Grade 8 textbook which boldly teaches the learner that out of everything that black people could ever want in life during the days of oppression, a gun was the most important tool.

The textbook uses an extract from a book, The Discovery of Wealth, published in 1986 by D Van Zyl, which states: “the months in the compound also presented an opportunity to save the 5 or 10 needed to buy what the black labourer invariably wanted most - a rifle. Armed with fire power, he returned to his own environment as a man of standing”.

Under the subheading Migrant Labour, on the same page, the book repeats the same statement as that of Van Zyl, in the form of emphasis, and states that the most important thing migrant workers toiled for was the acquisition “of a gun, farming equipment or traditional bride price”.

The Oxford Successful Life Orientation: Grade 9 book was particularly concerning in its projection of poor communities. For instance, the book asserts that: “In some poor communities parents send their girls out to have sex so that the family can eat” (page 20). This, as the report notes, was viewed by the Ministerial Task Team with reserved skepticism.

It is a worldwide confirmed research finding that textbooks play a significant role in education, and as such, educators depend on them together with the teacher’s guide to make

sure that they meet the outcomes of their lessons.

While the curriculum specifies the topics to be covered per grade, textbooks determine the content of instruction, and this may always result in teachers strictly following and teaching what is said in the textbook.

A good quality textbook should always reflect characteristics of a specific subject area that enables understanding and application of knowledge attained by learners who use the textbook.

The selection of content and presentation are but some of the important guidelines by which quality textbooks are evaluated.

Released in April 2019, the Textbook Analysis Report was meant to identify challenges in representations in textbook in grades 3, 6, 9 and 12, as phase-exiting grades.

Perhaps instead of only focusing on the school phase-exit grade textbooks, what the Department of Basic Education Ministerial Task Team (entrusted with evaluating textbooks in 2016) should have done is task a team for each grade to look at the content of the textbooks in use in the classroom - to identify the problematic textbooks that should be recalled immediately, due to the questionable content they feed to learners.

In its background statement, the report says that in the context of a national outcry against repeated instances of racism, most disconcertingly in South African schools, it is almost inevitable that the question arises of what the country’s children are learning in their classrooms.

Are the textbooks they are using, to raise the point sharply, helping them to think critically about their social differences? Are the textbooks providing them with the tools to understand prejudice, hate and the ways human beings diminish each other and discriminate against those whom they perceive to be of a different race, gender, sexuality, class, religion or language to themselves?

Are they helping them to deal with the conceits of superiority and the afflictions of inferiority?

The answers to the above questions are obviously yes and no. This is because some publishers follow the guidelines stipulated in the National Policy for the Provision and Management of Learning and Teaching Support Material, and present little offensive content in the textbooks they supply to schools.

However, in the case of the problematic content identified in the Successful Oxford textbooks, it is worth highlighting the negative impact the content has on the primary consumer: the learner in the classroom.

The problem with the type of misrepresentation contained in these particular Successful Oxford textbooks, and other publishers’ textbooks yet to be identified and meant for consumption in schools, is that they help shape false perceptions and build a foundation of lies presented as truth.

These perceptions in turn contribute to the formation of stereotyping, and end up being accepted as truth. It is important that textbooks should be reflective of authentic information so that the students can see that the textbooks are relevant to their real lives.

It is disappointing, to say the least, that these textbooks passed the screening process without important questions being asked about the intentions of the content, and ended up in the hands of a learner.

It is time to apply strict measures when screening and approving school textbooks, because our children deserve to know the truth and be impacted accordingly.

In the meantime, the Department of Education should at least revisit

its decision to let the Oxford Successful Social Sciences Grade 8 book pass

the screening stage and end up in schools, because as parents of the primary consumers, we are appalled and angry that our children are exposed to such mistruths.

* Tshegofatso Rasekgotoma is a literacy advocate and writes in her personal capacity.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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