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EDUCATING FOR A ‘PURPOSE’

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Sir,

The best test of whether or not you understand a concept is when you teach it to someone else. My mother embraced education, yet she never got much of an opportunity to be in a classroom just as I was. She learnt much by doing.

She always called me to help her do her business chores. ‘Watch and do’ she used to say, and I embraced that self-teaching mentality. While we teach, we learn too. Teaching forces you to communicate your thoughts clearly. Being heard is not enough anymore, you need to be understood. Teaching is not just good for those you take time to help, but it is good for the teacher too.


Teaching for understanding is leading learners to engage in a variety of thought provoking activities such as analysing things, finding or providing evidence, explaining and applying with understanding. It refers to educating for a ‘purpose’, giving them an understanding of why they have to learn what they are learning. It is about being asked to think more deeply about your facts, ideas and theories and to some extent even redefining the concepts.


When a pupil has problems learning the material that is given and taught in class, the teacher should first make sure that his/her interpretation of a concept is adequate before assuming that the problem is with the learner. Even if the concept is complex, the role of a teacher is making it simple to understand, breaking down all the concepts into something that can be understood with ease. Teaching therefore is not complete until those whom are being taught have understood completely what we were teaching. We cannot assume we have taught them when no one has understood us. Teaching for understanding is not a prescriptive process.


Teachers should create an environment whereby learners can conceive ideas and understand the new concepts that they are learning for a long period of time and be able to put that knowledge into practice. Educators should encourage pupils to be engaged in new learning and from that build their own understanding. After teaching them, ask them to apply the knowledge in unconventional ways to solve or rather address problems. Determine what is accessible to pupils, taking into consideration their different cultures, prior education or knowledge and their personal interests as well.


The classroom therefore will become a very motivating and an inspiring environment, where all learners are committed to learning without the need of even making a follow up. The truth is, every subject or learning area that learners will understand is ‘fun’ for them and will love learning that subject.  Until we have given understanding to those whom we are teaching, to the point that everything we were teaching begins to affect their day to day experience, beyond the classroom, we have not really taught and therefore have not fulfilled our purpose.

M Dlamini

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