More than 80% of current teachers were educated in the past segregated system, when environmental education did not feature in teacher education, or in the curriculum, shows a national research study.
Teacher education for environment and sustainable development has been neglected in teacher education innovations in the past 15 years. Three large scale national studies on the skills development issues associated with South Africa’s sustainable development pathway all point to the need to improve South African teachers’ knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge (capacity to teach) environmental and sustainable development content, values and skills. Teachers have inadequate environmental knowledge to lay the foundation for further environmental learning and career path development for youth in South Africa.
While the new Curriculum and Assessment Policy of South Africa (CAPS) integrates environmental content into almost every subject and level of the schooling system, from Grade R to Grade 12, the Department of Basic Education is too busy concentrating on improving basic capacity in areas of literacy and numeracy. This means that not enough attention is being given to environmental and sustainable development knowledge.
Life-long learning and teaching
Antonia Mkhabela (above) is a unique and dedicated teacher based in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands at Nottingham Road. She believes that the best thing about teaching is that you become a life-long learner. She loves “working with young inquisitive minds and assisting learners who are always hungry to explore new things.”
Starting out as devoted Afrikaans educator, Antonia has become committed to teaching her students about nature and the environment around them. She feels that Environment as a subject empowers learners to transform themselves and the society they live in. It also motivates them to adopt sustainable lifestyles.
Climate change and environmental education
“Climate change is a major concern globally, as the global temperature is increasing faster than it has done before, caused by increasing levels of man-made emissions,” says Antonia. “Currently we are experiencing droughts as one of the consequences of climate change, and this is putting all species at risk of extinction.”
Antonia is a natural teacher and as a child, that is all she ever wanted to be.
“I used to teach tree leaves what I had learnt at school. I used the leaves as learners and after teaching them I would ask questions, pointing at each one for answers. I was imitating my teacher, hitting the leaves for failing to give correct answers. Mom used to see me and felt sorry for the tree as it could not speak. I only realize now that I was destroying the tree!”
Her heart is now set on saving all trees and the living things that depend upon them. Her passion was ignited when, in 2012, Antonia met Janet Snow-Macleod, Environmental Education specialist at Treverton Schools in Mooi River, the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. At a workshop, Janet listened as teachers expressed their concern that they are finding it difficult to address the requirements within the curriculum, due to the lack of appropriate training in the past.
Environment learning and teaching
Janet is the initiator of a distinctive initiative that now addresses skills development for such educators. The Treverton – Educators’ Skills Development in Environmental Learning project is steered by Environment Learning and Teaching (Janet’s own project) and Treverton Schools. This Continuous Professional Development project facilitates teachers from the KZN Midlands area to become confident and competent in teaching the environmental components of their specific grades and subjects.
Janet is also involved with a Fundisa for Change project which invited Further Education and Training (FET) Life Sciences teachers to workshops where they could enhance their professional development by learning new skills concerning environmental content knowledge stipulated in the national curriculum.
Fundisa for Change is a collective programme formed specifically to boost transformative environmental learning through teacher education. This partnership programme involves many of South Africa’s major environmental organisations, including state, parastatal, NGO and private companies, which have an interest in teacher education. Fundisa’s main aim is to strengthen the teaching of environmental concepts in schools.
Friends in environmental education
“Janet encouraged and motivated me to subscribe to the notion of becoming a life-long learner. As a result, I am currently studying at Rhodes University towards my Masters in Environmental Education. She has gone as far as finding a sponsor – N3 Toll Concession (N3TC) – for my studies!” says Antonia.
The two educators have become staunch friends, both teaching in the Nottingham Road area. Antonia started off as an Afrikaans teacher at the Shea O’Connor Combined School, previously known as the Nottingham Road Combined School, in Nottingham Road village.
Antonia was a natural Afrikaans educator who liked to teach and explain Afrikaans concepts and poems to her fellow leaners who found that subject difficult. She went on to choose Afrikaans and History as her majors at the Esikhawini College of Education in Empangeni, 1988-1990.
Before long, Antonia was asked to teach Biology at Shea O’Connor as there was a shortage of teachers.
“The school environment inspired me to participate in numerous professional developmental workshops such as Science, Technology, and Environmental activities and managerial skills. I am teaching Life Sciences, Grades 10 to 12, and Life Orientation, Grade 8, and I am also currently the Deputy Principal!”
Commitment to environmental teaching
Antonio’s personal pledge to keep on growing and her new dedication to environmental education encouraged her to work with Janet to better her innate knowledge.
“Environmental content knowledge is a new content in the Curriculum and Assessment Policy statement (CAPS) but teachers find it quite challenging to teach as it was not part of the syllabus during their teacher training. I understand the aims and principles of (CAPS) better and develop the lesson plans and assessment activities towards achieving them,” explains Antonio.
So much so that she decided to share the knowledge and skills she has gained with her colleagues at their school. When she ran a developmental workshop on lesson planning and assessment practices last year, it introduced a fresh team spirit amongst her teachers. Now everyone feels free to share their challenges in terms of teaching and learning, as well as their teaching practices.
“This has had a ripple effect on my learners who have developed a genuine interest in Environment. Some have even pursued Environmental careers at the university level!” enthuses Antonia. “Fundisa for Change has taken teaching out of the four walls of the classroom to the Environment within the school as well as in the surrounding areas.”
Antonia is a true role-model who was raised by her mother, a single parent who was a domestic worker. Today, her own little family (her niece and her little dog Panjo) keeps her happy. And seeing her school and her learners grow is all-consuming.
There are obstacles along the way for teachers. Learners in many schools lack intrinsic motivation and have lost interest in education due to lack of parental support. Often schools suffer a shortage of textbooks and lack resources like libraries and laboratories. Teachers often have to work in congested classrooms.
Antonia now aims to develop participatory teaching and learning activities that will empower and motivate female learners to take action for sustainable development. This will enable them to and their communities to address critical issues such as poverty, climate change and water quality.
“If I could change the world I would like to change people’s attitudes towards land pollution through educating them about the importance of respecting the environment and the species we are sharing the earth with. I would also encourage the provision of incentives for well performing municipalities that have policies against illegal dumping.”
Antonia has great advice for children:
- To become responsible citizens of the country by shaping a better future for themselves and future generations to come.
- To participate in environmental projects and organizations as well as in sustainable development practices, including taking actions to reduce their carbon footprints.
- All learners should take a keen interest in the environment.
Her advice for teachers:
- To become drivers of change through empowering themselves with new skills and approaches to teaching and learning
- To consult CAPS documents and examination guidelines to improve their assessment practices.
- Networking with good performing schools
- Tafadzwa Bero, a Grade 12 learner, won a gold medal at the International Science Expo for young Scientists in October in Johannesburg in the Environmental Management: Human interaction with the Environment category. He also won a R30 000 bursary fund to study at Stellenbosch University for his investigation of water quality in the recently built Spring Grove dam at Rosetta in KwaZulu-Natal.
- Rehabilitation of the school wetland: The school enviro-club realized that the destruction of the school wetland was an environmental issue. They used their initiative to solve the problem and made decisions using critical and creative thinking by writing a letter requesting a donation of a fence. The club invited the wetland specialist from the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) to advise them on how to rehabilitate their wetland.
- Trashion Show: Shea O’Connor Combined School held a fashion show based on trash on their recycling day. The aim was to educate learners towards reducing waste and taking action around waste challenges. Antonio guided them to strategize on how to reduce waste in their society by designing different outfits out of waste material.
By Janis Theron