Exploring the role of principal-cum teachers in a multi-grade school context : evidence from five principals in one district of KwaZulu-Natal.
Ngcobo, Sikhulekile General.
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Globally, research shows that in many countries multi-grade teaching is practised. The research shows that in some countries this practice is exercised by choice and in other instances, it is by necessity. In the context of South Africa, it is exercised not by choice but as a necessity. It is one of the ways of ensuring that the Education For All goals are attained even in remote areas. In South Africa, the Constitution of the country, Act 108 of 1996, clearly spells out that all children have a right to learn irrespective of what the conditions are. Research shows that multi-grade teaching is mostly practised in rural areas where the population is very low in such a way that children who are part of that society cannot make a class or a mono-grade in their school. This is due to the stipulations of the Post Provisioning Norms that is used in the context of South Africa which declares that the number of teachers stationed in the school is determined by the number of learners enrolled in the school. Research shows that in schools where multi-grade teaching is practised, principals are also engaged fully in teaching multi-grade classes. Therefore, in these schools, principals perform two crucial roles, leadership and management and multi-grade teaching. Principals are compelled to develop a knowledge base within the complexities of the actual classroom situation and also for administrative, leadership and management. In this study, these principals are regarded as principal-cum teachers. This inquiry investigated the experiences of principal-cum teachers as heads of institution and also multi-grade teachers. Handling these two roles simultaneously requires some skills since it is two roles rolled on one hand. Through a multi-site case study design, involving five schools as sites and triangulated by conducting individual interviews, focus group interviews and observations, I focused on three issues. I focused on exploring their daily roles and how they experienced these roles; their different strategies employed to manage their multiple roles and finally looking at what we can learn from the principal-cum teachers regarding ways of better managing multi-grade schools. The study is informed by Wenger’s (1998) social practice theory where the focus is the four concepts found in the theory. The four concepts are meaning, identity, community and practice. Coupled with the social practice theory is the capability approach which assesses their functioning and capability. The findings reveal that principal-cum teachers are faced by multiple roles within one day which are normally performed by multiple members in a normal school environment. Findings unveil that the principal-cum teachers found it difficult to perform all their roles assigned to them in one day. Much of their time is spent in their multi-grade classes teaching learners. Furthermore, findings reveal that the principal-cum teachers are faced with a number of challenges in this context. To list a few, the curriculum is a problem because it is suitable for mono-grades and not for multi-grade. Funding in these schools is too less due to number of learners enrolled. The principal-cum teachers received very little support from the parents of learners as well as from the Department of Education. The floor space itself is a problem since they use classrooms as multi-purpose centres. Findings reveal that the principal-cum teachers felt neglected by the Department and are under-estimated by various stakeholders. They used a number of strategies to survive in schools that they managed, like fundraising, saving and prioritizing, working over-weekends and using their own coffers to run schools. These findings imply that there is a need for reviewing the policies in such a way that multi-grade schools are not disadvantaged. It also calls for the Department of Education to design suitable programs for assistance to multi-grade schools practitioners.
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