Culture shock for education

THE renowned French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu once wrote that "By doing away with giving explicitly to everyone what it implicitly demands of everyone, the educational system demands of everyone alike that they have what it does not give".

"This consists mainly of linguistic and cultural competence and that relationship of familiarity with culture which can only be produced by family upbringing when it transmits the dominant culture."

The quotation by Bourdieu has been used by many scholars across the globe to attack sexism, racism, cultural bias, cultural hegemony and ethnocentrism, all of which are wellknown tenets of Eurocentricity in education.

Professor Molefi Asante of Temple University in the US describes any particular form of centricity, be it Eurocentricity, Afrocentricity or Asiacentricity, as to do with centering.

As a frame of reference, Afrocentricity contends under a Eurocentric educational system, like the one we have in South Africa, known as outcomes-based education. Problems of under-performance could be attributed to the fact that black people tend to be educated away from their culture.

Since the introduction of OBE in 1998, black students, teachers and principals have continued to face problems of disengagement, academic exclusion and other forms of marginalisation.

What is amazing though is how the problem of under-performance as measured in the performance of matric has come to be conceptualised, framed and articulated in the current educational discourse.

As Roland Barthes once asserted: "Any particular discourse that engenders blame, hence guilt, in its recipient, the discourse of power in South Africa, the problem of under-performance, be it in relation to pupils, teachers or principals, has been conceptualised from an overly cerebral and essentialist standpoint."

Pointing to the root cause of the problem, which is South Africa's dependency on ideas borrowed and copied from Western sources as a way of dealing with the problems of the past, in the current discourse, black pupils, teachers and principals are the ones who are being blamed for incompetence, inefficiency and infectiveness.

This is regardless of the fact that evidence in most of our schools point to the fact that, under the current OBE system, black children don't only suffer from problems of marginalisation, but also cultural, academic and psychological disengagement.

On the other hand, teachers and principals suffer from the challenges of cognitive and cultural dissonance.


There is a growing concern in this country about the lack of cultural explanation in both the educational discourse and the existing research in South Africa, why black South Africans in particular, are not coping with OBE.

Scholars such as Pierre Bourdieu, Basil Bernstein, and many others, have long highlighted the importance of culture when it comes to policy development and policy implementation.

However, in South Africa, the argument for culture seems to have been seriously neglected, in both the educational discourse as well as in the existing research.

As an educational policy in South Africa, outcomes based education was officially introduced in March 1998, and since that time many of our schools, leaders, teachers and principals, particularly those schools that because of the unfortunate legacy of apartheid's draconian laws such as the Group Areas Act, find themselves in some of the poorest areas of South Africa, continue to under-perform or not to perform in line with the expectations of the Department of Education.

Since the issue of culture and its impact on education is something that is widely acknowledged in scholastic research, the question then becomes, why issues of cultural fit are not part of the discourse around education, more importantly, issues of under-performance and non-performance.

In South Africa, we all know that under-performance or non-performance is something synonymous with black public schools.

While like the old apartheid system, in certain quarters or in those countries where we are told the idea of OBE was copied and borrowed from, people of African descent have labelled the education of those countries, with what the apartheid system was accused of, racist, culturally biased, unapologetically Eurocentric, overly hegemonic and unashamedly ethnocentric, many people in this country are starting to ask the same questions.

How less hegemonic is OBE? How less Eurocentric is it?

How culturally isomorphic is the OBE educational system with the cultures of the majority of the people in this country, most importantly the majority of the people whose schools, pupils, teachers and principals are associated with issues of under-performance and non-performance?

Instead of blaming black children, teachers and principals, all of whom continue to under-perform under the OBE system, perhaps the question that we need to ask is, isn't the problem of under-performance in South Africa not a direct result of OBE as an educational policy being Eurocentric, overly hegemonic, culturally biased and ethnocentric?