Curriculum, context and identity : an investigation of the curriculum practices of grade 9 teachers in three contrasting socio-economic school contexts.
This study investigates variations in actual curricular practices across three diverse socio-economic status (SES) urban schools in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, at the end of the first decade of democracy. The aim of the study was to derive a theoretically informed understanding of the contribution of curriculum practices to social stratification. An eclectic theoretical approach, with an emphasis on Bernsteinian structural interactionist approach involving the micro situation reflecting macro level power relations, informed the study. A qualitative research design was used. The findings of the study showed that there were significant variations in the internal structuring of pedagogic discourse across the three contrasting socio-economic school contexts. Deep-seated inequalities in access to diverse forms of knowledge and to intellectual enhancement of students were being reproduced across the three schools. The students in the elite, independent SES school, and top stream of the middle SES school, were being inducted into a variety of strongly classified and framed distinct disciplinary-based subjects and weakly classified and framed integrated projects and had far better chances of entry to fields of study in higher education than students at the lower socio-economic status school. Utilitarian ideology, simple everyday and community knowledge discourses, and incoherent pedagogy dominated classroom practices at the lower SES school. The consequence was that students were being positioned in segmental horizontal discourses. At the elite and lower SES schools the variations in knowledge and intellectual skills taught are attributed to teachers' differential grasp of subject content arising from their own stratified educational experiences and to the persisting extreme inequalities in distribution of resources. This situation indicates continuities with apartheid-structured inequalities. The assimilationist approach followed by the middle SES school, a former White school that had become racially and socio-economically diverse, was clearly being challenged by many students, with adverse student outcomes. The different curriculum practices across the three schools have implications for the reproduction of social stratification. The study suggests that South Africa's historical legacy context is an extremely powerful force in influencing and constraining actual outcomes in South African schools. The lack of attention to contextual realities by the 'one size fits all' policy functions to undermine transformative impulses. The non-interventionist policy of the post-Apartheid government with reference to school development and improvement, namely the policy of decentralisation and the devolution of power and governance to local schools, benefited the advantaged schools that possess the necessary economic and social capital to compete and exercise choice and manipulate the system to their advantage. For the disadvantaged school that lacked the material and intellectual resources the policy became the means for the entrenching of inequalities in access to diverse forms of knowledge and thus to the reproduction of social inequalities.