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Is Life Orientation a necessary subject?

A Wits university professor has debunked the notion that Life Orientation is a waste of time.

FILE:A Wits professor said LO challenges students to think in different ways. Picture: Reinart Toerien/EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - Do you or did you ever wish you didn't have Life Orientation (LO) as a subject? Do you think it's a dull waste of time, or has did it offer you one of the most valuable opportunities you've ever had?

Turns out it could be one of the most important platforms from which learners can acquire life skills, democracy skills and vital knowledge about our diverse country and the world.

Wits Life Orientation and Religious Studies Professor Rene Ferguson states categorically that it must not be dropped from the school curriculum.

She said despite calls from the public and government alike to have the subject scrapped, it provides an opportunity to impact young lives in a way they might otherwise never have the opportunity to again.

"The problems started with the change of national curriculum after the end of apartheid, where teachers that weren't trained to teach the subject taught life orientation.

"If the teacher actually cares to make a difference to change the way young people think and make a difference in their lives, the lesson will not be obsolete.

"It's a huge mistake to expect a maths teacher to be a good LO teacher, just because they have a few gaps on their timetable."

In 2014 Ferguson's research on the subject revealed both good and bad aspects of the way it is being taught in South Africa.

"Last year, I was able to sit in and observe what was happening. Sometimes it's good news and sometimes I just wanted to weep. It also depends which textbooks teachers are using. There are numerous textbooks and schools choose what's affordable. Sometimes there are no textbooks and teachers have to extract from what's available."

Ferguson said it all boils down to the teacher.

"Do they care about their learners? Do they care that there might be pregnant girls in the class? Do they care that they might have abused pupils in their class?

"In some schools, teachers are quickly pulling out a page from the newspaper and making do with that, without looking at progression and planning a useful programme."

Ferguson said the beauty of the subject is that it can expose pupils to real life, controversial issues.

"LO challenges people to think about who they are, their place in the world, where they are going and their relationships with other people."