Teacher perceptions of the process of desegregation in selected Pietermaritzburg schools.
This research project attempts to identify teacher perceptions of school desegregation at three schools in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. A targetted selection of schools was made to ensure that three of the former apartheid era Education Departments were represented. Data were gathered from interviews with teachers and by means of questionnaires that were completed by pupils. The study attempts to replicate a study that was carried out by Verma et al (1994) in secondary schools in Britain. The Pietermaritzburg study sought to examine the experiences and attitudes of teachers in three racially desegregated schools to deepen our understanding of the complex processes of inter-racial and inter- cultural exchange within the three schools. The Pietermaritzburg (as did the Verma et ai, 1994) study focussed on the following areas: • How well did the teachers know themselves, their students and colleagues? • What, if any, relevant policy frameworks did they operate with, and how widely were these internally known and acknowledged? • To what extent were teachers equipped by knowledge, experience, training and disposition to contribute to good inter-ethnic relationships? • What were the teachers' perceptions of the state of pupil inter ethnic relationships? • To what extent did school/community links affect the pupil inter-ethnic relationships? • see page 38. The teacher interviews were used to create a profile for each school and selected data from the pupil questionnaires were used to compare the opinions of the pupils to that of the teachers. The profiles of the three schools were compared to determine similarities and differences in terms of the research questions. The major findings of the study were that: • The teachers did not know their pupils' ethnic backgrounds. • None of the schools operated with any policy frameworks with specific reference to either the promotion of inter-ethnic relationships, or the handling of racial incidents or racism in general. None of the schools were equipped by knowledge, experience, training or disposition to contribute to good pupil inter-ethnic relations. Assimilation was the primary approach adopted in response to desegregation. Very few links existed between the schools and the communities that they served. The state of pupil inter-ethnic relationships was perceived by the teachers as being poor. The comparison of the findings of the Pietermaritzburg and Verma et al (1994) studies revealed that: • The circumstances under which school desegregation took place in the United Kingdom and South Africa were different; teachers in both the studies were ill-prepared to teach in multi-ethnic schools; insufficient INSET was identified as a problem in both studies; significantly better school-community links were identified in, the Verma study as compared to the Pietermaritzburg study and; • teachers in the Verma study were better informed about macro and micro education policies as compared to the teachers in the Pietermaritzburg study. This study recommends that mechanisms need to be established to ensure that the role players involved in education work together as it is impossible to implement any form of educational reform without the participation of all the role players. The study also recommends that research needs to begin focussing on actual classroom practice to determine how racism is addressed in lessons and how it is tackled as a problem among children.