If I were to ask you to rate the usefulness of Life Orientation (LO) as a school subject, how would you score it? As someone who has been through the study of life that is LO, I know what my review would be. Based on those basic life skills learnt, I know it would be impolite not to share...
The Beauty of Life
We all know that LO is one of the four compulsory subjects in South African schools. What we may not know is that it's a subject, which comes with good intentions. Life Orientation was introduced, after democracy, with the aim of educating learners about South African history and sharing basic life skills. In section 2.1 of the National Curriculum Statement (NCS), 'What is Life Orientation?', it states:
"Life Orientation is central to the holistic development of learners... Life Orientation guides and prepares learners for life and its possibilities and equips them for meaningful and successful living in a rapidly changing and transforming society. (LO aims to) guide learners to make informed decisions about their health, environment, subject choices, further studies and careers."
A pretty impressive statement! The subject clearly has great vision, unfortunately, most ideas only look good on paper. In truth, LO's potential is great but the execution has been, for the most part, poor. Herein lies the problem... and my frustration.
Learners not Loving Life
I cannot speak for everyone but I will say this: LO did not make its intended impact on my life. Although the subject taught me a few life lessons, these were mostly self-explanatory or stuff I already knew. It has been seven years since I've actually sat in an LO class and I had every hope that the syllabus would've pulled up its socks by now. Alas, things are pretty much the same.
My sister is currently in matric and she claims that LO is a free period, she and her friends use the hour to catch up on homework or the latest gossip. So, instead of LO being a lesson on self- development and practical learning, it's a free for all. Getting ready for life is not supposed to be a waste of time. This may not be the situation in every single school but it is the reality in many government LO classrooms. Why? The content lacks relevance and stimulating lessons are non-existent.
The sad truth is LO has become the subject that adds little to no value and is an easy pass.
Spanner in the Works
The gap between what LO sets out to achieve and what it actually achieves is huge. Clearly, something has gone wrong in the system, the question is: where exactly did the wheels fall off?
Fact: LO is surrounded by negative connotations to the extent where no one takes it seriously anymore. By no one, I mean both learners and teachers. Of course, this is a generalisation yet it is a truth that holds in many schools across the country.
Why has LO developed this disinterest? Well, it has been a long time coming. Over the years, the subject has built up a reputation in schools of having dry content coupled with a lack of engaging lessons. Parrot Learning the symptoms of different STDs for the third time in a high school career is not the most valuable life prep for high schoolers. This may sound harsh but, ultimately, this is what it boils down to.
According to the NSC, two hours per week are allocated to LO. One hour for physical education and the other one for theory — this works out to about 40 hours of class time per year. That is a lot of time. In my opinion, it could be spent doing so much more. I'm discovering many life hacks now that I could've learnt in those 40 hours. The syllabus has let me, and countless others, down.
The Teacher Struggle is Real
When things fall apart, finger-pointing is inevitable and in this case, LO teachers are easy targets. Teachers of the subject do vary in qualification and passion for the subject. However, playing the blame game will not solve any problems. Yes, teachers are responsible for teaching the content but they cannot be held solely accountable for a lack interest in the subject. Content is at the heart of the issue. Unfortunately, switching up the syllabus is obviously not an option — that is in the hands of the government.
My intention is not to recruit people to hop onto the anti-LO bandwagon. Rather, it is to create awareness around the great potential this subject has and how we can initiate a change. Whether this is by encouraging the government to consider a syllabus makeover or shifting our attitude towards the "it-is-what-it-is" situation.
Learners, if LO lessons don't inspire you, inspire yourself, the change can begin with you. Start asking questions and show signs of interest in the subject. You'll also find teachers will be more motivated to teach when you're eager to engage with the content.
Teachers, the syllabus needs to up its game but, in the meantime, work with what you have. Use the hour to inspire your learners and throw in some side dishes of hearty life advice. They'll appreciate your authentic approach and learn some valuable insights.