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Bigger picture thinking needed in education, says Rays of Hope

Rays of Hope's Mahlatse Mabaso says certain things cannot be ignored in the efforts to help learners truly succeed.

Rays of Hope, an NGO that provides educational and psycho-social support to learners in impoverished Alexandra, believes big-picture thinking is needed in education if the country to overcome the challenges that are affecting the sector.

This is the view held by Rays of Hope’s Mahlatse Mabaso, who said the education sector was afflicted by violence and safety concerns due to a severe lack of physical resources, such as school libraries and computer labs.
Mabaso said there was, however, a deeper issue that needs to be addressed within the education system if these challenges are to be overcome.

“Learners do not exist in a vacuum. As social beings, their attitudes, behaviours, abilities, and successes all depend on their social environments and the social contexts they are exposed to,” Mabaso said.
“We cannot ignore these things if we want to be able to help our learners truly succeed. We must consider the needs of the whole child, with a holistic approach to education.”

Challenges in the modern education system

Mabaso said the modern education system as it is known has not evolved much since the early 1900s, with its roots in the US based on principles introduced by American business magnate John D Rockefeller.
According to his approach, the goal of education was to be ‘vocational’, that is, to teach young people the skills necessary to enter the workforce as employees.

“The world is a vastly different place now, compared to when the initial ideas and approaches to education were formed,” said Kerryn Allagappen, a writer in the content, development and production division of Regenesys Business School.
“The issue with the education system at present is that children are taught that there’s only one way to be successful, and that’s through academia. But at the end of the day, we need to be able to assess whether you have the knowledge and skills, as well as the capability to use these for your own good and the good of others,” Alagappen said.
“Our understanding now is that education is meant to assist the individual to flourish, which is why there needs to be a focus on emotional, physical, and spiritual intelligence.

Integrating social and emotional learning

For children in Alex, learning isn’t a linear experience. Poverty, for instance, plays a major role in their lives and impacts their schooling careers. Crime and violence at home or within their community also influence how they navigate the learning journey. All these social issues combine to create volatile classroom environments that are not conducive enough to learning, said the academic dean at Regenesys Business School, Dr Sibongiseni Kumalo.

“We often see worrying instances of violence in children, bringing weapons into school. The problem of gangsterism and the environment in which these children grow up normalises carrying a knife around, even at such a young age. We then see children, at the slightest provocation, pulling knives on their peers or teachers,” Kumalo said.
He said the frustration that learners feel because of the circumstances they face in life in general, not just in academia, and their inability to express these feelings in appropriate or healthy ways, is what exacerbates many of the challenges currently faced in schools.

Khumalo said social and emotional learning emerges as an important tool to be integrated into the education system to be able to advance the goal of a more holistic educational environment for all learners.
Essentially, he said, social and emotional learning teaches learners to find constructive ways to deal with their emotions and frustrations with one another in a respectful manner.

Through social and emotional learning, learners gain self-awareness, learn to better understand and unpack their thoughts and emotions, and in the process develop a higher level of empathy for others.
“Humans are social beings. To be social is to consider the self in the context of others. We are all also holistic beings with a purpose, different values, and different ways of learning and understanding the world.

“All these complexities need to be taken into consideration when building educational frameworks for today’s learners. We can’t focus solely on learning when the environment, for instance, is not conducive enough for this to take place successfully.”
“It’s for this reason that Rays of Hope embraces a holistic strategy to providing care and support to children in Alex that considers the whole child,” Mabaso added.

Related Article: Rays of Hope calls for change in corporate-NPO relations

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