SPOTLIGHT ON MATRICULANTS' LIST OF SET BOOKS
The Minister of Education, Professor Kader Asmal, today expressed his concern over the comments made by a group of 4 teachers to an evaluation panel in the Gauteng Province about Nadine Gordimer's book, July's People, as well as books by a number of other authors. He said the comments were ill informed, pedagogically unsound and smacked of anti-intellectualism. For the Minister, the comments about Ms Gordimer's work were most insulting, given her stature and reputation as a world-renowned writer and opponent of apartheid. He had conveyed these sentiments to Ms Gordimer in a telephone call from Dublin, where he is presently on a visit. He also found the comments about the suitability of various Shakespearean works to be lacking in appreciation of their literary value.
The Minister said that part of the problem lies with involving groups of people in decisions about such matters who do not appreciate the implications of what they are doing and the harm that they can cause through poor evaluation techniques. Whilst he was not in favour of returning to a strongly centralised approach, as had existed under apartheid, he said he would discuss a national approach to the development of prescribed reading lists with his provincial colleagues at the next meeting of the Council of Education Ministers.
The Minister welcomed the statement from the Gauteng Department of Education in which it distanced itself from the views presented to the evaluation panel. He also noted the fact that as yet no decisions on the new set works to be used in 2002 had been taken by the Gauteng Department
In the meantime, he called on the MEC for Education in Gauteng to undertake an investigation into how it was possible for such comments to be made public and to ensure that procedures are put in place to prevent a repeat of this embarrassing incident. Experts with a proper appreciation for literature should be given the task of making assessments about what books should be used.
The Minister also acknowledged the need and rationale for the list of approved books to be amended from time to time, as this would ensure that a good rotation of reading material is made available to schools.
He indicated that students should be subjected to a broad variety of literary styles and traditions and that it was as important to ensure that students develop an ability to critically understand and evaluate what they are reading.
The Minister also expressed his concern about the irresponsible manner in which this matter was covered in some international media reports, especially in the United Kingdom and United States of America. Some of the coverage in this regard argued that the Gauteng Province had either banned the books or made a decision to exclude them from the list of new set works. These reports are clearly untrue and misleading. The Minister would like to urge the journalists concerned to report on the facts rather than succumbing to sensational journalism.
Contact: Molatwane Likhethe at 082 573 0397
Issued by Ministry of Education
19 April 2001