Since 1994, various initiatives have been put in place that aim not only to ensure access to educational opportunities and restore a culture of learning and teaching but also to improve the quality of education in South Africa. This chapter elaborates on some of the barriers that have been identified in the above reports. It also identifies and explores additional factors that may be considered barriers to learning in schools, as we believe these have clear implications for opening learning in the schooling sector. Some of the the substantive work of the early childhood pedagogical conditions appear so obvious that they are often overlooked in studies such as this.
Attitudes and the extent to which they influence practices are important factors in open learning. In South Africa, there is a clear perception that formal, classroom-based schooling is the best way for learning to take place take, and that other forms of learning, such as distance education, are inferior alternatives reserved primarily for those denied access to mainstream educational systems. Attitudes are important because they have the potential to affect the way in which people behave. For example, attitudes could influence policies that people develop, decisions on financing of education, the way managers and administrators work in their institutions, and teaching and learning strategies themselves. Attitudes can also affect the way in which learners behave towards teachers and other learners in or outside classrooms.
In addition, there are many social practices that are not particularly encouraging for schooling. One example of such practices is initiation. Among some African communities, both boys and girls have to go to initiation school before they are recognized as adults. The initiation process requires that initiates, who are in most cases aged between 15 and 21, be kept away from home and the community for two to three months. Learners in one school further indicated that a major problem regarding initiation and the extent to which it affects schooling is the attitude of parents who seem to value traditional practices more than school-based education. These kinds of social attitudes and practices are a critical factor to consider when attempting to open learning. On the one hand, allowing them to continue unchallenged can create significant, unnecessary barriers to learning in any educational system.
On the other, efforts at reform that deviate too far from what is considered acceptable by the broader society are likely to be rejected before they stand any chance of success. Admission of Learners One key area of focus for open learning is criteria for admission to educational courses and programmes. The new admissions policy may have far reaching consequences in that fewer children will be admitted into grade one, reducing the need for teachers in that grade. This may require further redeployment and retrenchment of teachers, a process that has already had a negative impact on the morale of teachers. Language Policy Language is an extremely important tool for learning. Beyond the foundation phase of schooling, most learners are expected to learn in English and Afrikaans, which are not the primary languages of the majority. This creates problems for many learners, as the language used in textbooks and other learning materials is sometimes inaccessible.