Is There A New Future Of Schooling In South Africa?

Gavin Keller, principal of Sun Valley primary school in Cape Town, has created quite a stir since announcing his decision a few months back to disband the practice of giving pupils homework.

The decision has been widely discussed across South Africa, and has received coverage on SABC, The Sunday times, Talk Radio 702, and Forbes. This “new homework policy”, as Keller describes it, aims to focus on “redesigning our curriculum using the Understanding by Design (UbD) curriculum”.

This methodology places an emphasis on the understanding and practical application of curriculum content. The focus is for pupils to develop an understanding of the content using the “six facets of understanding” – namely, the ability to explain, interpret, apply, have perspective, empathize, and have self-knowledge of all topics that they are presented with in the school environment.

Keller claims that the reaction from parents since the initiation of this new approach has been overwhelmingly positive, remarking that there has been an “increase in academic results and motivation levels” since its implementation.

Delving into the reasons as to why Keller made this decision highlights an array of related challenges around the topic of homework. Children spend approximately 7 hours in the classroom learning, and once their school day is over (this excludes extra-curriculum activities), they are required to complete additional assignments at home. Of course, it can be argued that homework is a necessary step in developing self-discipline, in the delaying of gratification, and the encouragement of self-study and problem solving – all of which are essential qualities required to set the foundation upon which a successful post-high school future can be built. Additionally, the practice of giving pupils homework can be said to facilitate the adjustment and integration into the demanding working world, where the job market is tough and competition is rife.

Whether other schools will follow suit is yet to be seen, but it certainly has caused waves across the country and only time will tell whether this new initiative is advantageous or not.

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