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One pencil to share

by Vincent Ciccarello

Cover of the book; One pencil to shareClass sizes and the relative merits of public versus private schools are perennial hot topics in the local education debate.

One wonders what South African teachers, whose experiences are the subject of a new book, might make of the fuss – for them, classes of 65 or more students, spanning three grades, in schools that lack electricity and running water, are commonplace.

Impressed by a group of nine African students participating in what they thought was a group activity, the authors, UniSA’s Dr Kathy Paige and Michael Chartres, watched as one learner wrote and the others waited patiently for their turn to write – only to realise they had one pencil to share.

This poignant moment inspired the title of the book.

One Pencil to Share: stories of teacher transformation in science and mathematics from the Eastern Cape, Republic of South Africa, traces the progress of eight graduates of the University of Fort Hare’s Distance Education Project, developed with the support of UniSA in 1994.

The authors believe the teachers’ stories "celebrate and document much that is left unsaid about the significance of what teachers do, their everyday thoughts, dreams and challenges and their passion to make a positive difference to young people’s lives".

Each teacher describes her own transformation from authority figure standing before an unquestioning class to teacher/learner, relating lessons to the students’ everyday life against a backdrop of poverty, high unemployment, AIDS and lack of resources.

Noloyiso Garane of the rural Ncerane Junior Secondary School recalls how the Distance Education Project changed her teaching methods and principles.

"I started to love my learners. I started to love the way I present my lessons," she writes, adding, "it is not easy to teach because is not only about teaching… it is about how you relate to staff at the school, how you relate with your community and with your parents outside your school."

One Pencil to Share is available for $30 from UniSA’s Centre for Research in Education, Equity and Work tel (08) 8302 6271 fax (08) 8302 6837 email creewbooks@unisa.edu.au