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Life Orientation – What’s the Point?

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If I were to ask you what you thought of Life Orientation, what would you say? Would you frown and mumble something about it being a waste of time? Want to know what I think? Of course you do, that’s why you opened this article.

To be honest, while I was still swirling around the thoughts of this article in my mind, before I started writing, I was angry. I was ready to write an article that tore Life Orientation to pieces, one that shone a light on all the problems of the subject. After a bitter and scornful first draft, a decent amount of thought and some hours of research I’ve come to realise that I’m not angry, I’m frustrated.

When I hear the words ‘life orientation’, I immediately think: identity, STDs, identity, a free lesson to catch up on homework, identity, time to chat with friends and, you guessed it, identity.

Harsh, but true.

The last time I was in an LO class was almost six years ago. With hope, I thought that maybe things had changed a bit since then. I decided to ask the opinion of a friend who has just matriculated and her answer was this; “it’s basically just a free period and then we get the notes for what we need to study for the exam.” She elaborated that in the lower grades teachers would still roughly go through the textbook.

In matric – it just became a free period.

Nothing has changed. Frustrating? Yes.

Why the frustration?

Life Orientation was introduced, after democracy, with the aim to educate scholars about the history of South Africa and give them basic life skills. In section 2.1 ‘What is Life Orientation?’ of the National Curriculum Statement (NCS) updated in 2011, it states:

Life Orientation is central to the holistic development of learners. It addresses skills, knowledge and values for the personal, social, intellectual, emotional and physical growth of learners, and is concerned with the way in which these facets are interrelated. 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.

It also states that it aims to

teach learners to exercise their constitutional rights and responsibilities


guide learners to make informed decisions about their health, environment, subject choices, further studies and careers.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I didn’t get that memo. I’m not saying that LO taught me absolutely nothing because it definitely did. It taught me something because we had coherent textbooks and good teachers. The problem is that a textbook can go either way – good or bad – based on how the theory of it is explained and put into practice. In other words, the interaction of scholars and teachers with a textbook can completely change the reception of its theory.

Here lies our problem. Over the years, due to the lack of stimulating lessons, LO has built up such negative connotations that no one takes it seriously anymore.

In 2011, Anne Jacobs completed a study that aimed to determine what the perceptions of learners were regarding their experience of LO in order to make recommendations for improving the practice of LO. In a section where she questions learners on their enjoyment of the subject, she received the following statement:

Uhm, mam, honestly it depends on what we are doing for the day. Honestly, most of the time a lot of the teachers aren’t even so enthusiastic about this subject. From them talking so boring, and everything just not clicking, mam … and then all of that together just makes you negative about the subject. That’s all I have to say.

If the teacher doesn’t care why should I?

I don’t want to play a blame game on all teachers as I do believe that many teachers are doing an excellent job of shaping the minds of scholars. In a public school, where the matric final exams are based on the same textbook countrywide, it becomes difficult to add new skills when those skills won’t be asked in final exams. In the grander scheme of things, the entire syllabus needs to change, and that happens in government.

I will say that I think there needs to be greater initiative and creativity from both learners and teachers when tackling the current subject matter put forward by government for LO. Obviously, learners need to learn what will be in their exams, but why not teach it in a way that’s actually interesting? As well as that, what about the time they don’t spend doing that? Teachers have the opportunity to take this lesson and really expose scholars to skills, debates and opinions that help them grow emotionally and socially. Almost every other subject in school is geared to providing academic knowledge, whereas LO can actually teach learners “meaningful and successful living in a rapidly changing and transforming society.”

If you really want to move forward with your thinking then why not take on a growth mindsetFind out more about how this can change your life. Again, I am frustrated because this is such a waste of an opportunity. According to the NCS, two hours per week is allocated to LO.  One hour for physical education and the other hour for theory. That’s 40 hours of class time. Like I said, I’ve been out of school for six years now. I don’t regret my path, but there are still things that I’m only learning now that I could have learnt in those 40 hours. Things like changing the tyre of a car, learning how to drive, how to apply for a loan, how taxes work, how to budget, how to set up an email account or how to cook a basic meal – I still don’t know how to do half of those.

Other than these practical life skills, I wish LO taught you how to have an opinion. That it’s okay if you don’t have the rest of your life planned before matriculating, that taking a gap year may be the best decision of your life and that worrying about what everyone else is doing doesn’t matter. To be honest, I wish LO was a class where scholars could debate life’s circumstances and choices with classmates and teachers. I know that maturity comes with time and that you can’t teach maturity but you can teach different ways of thinking.

“It is about believing in yourself, which is a skill and can be learned”                                                                                    – Sonia Simon 

Enough complaining

I’ve spent most of this article looking at all the faults of the current LO syllabus. While it’s good to recognise the problem, it won’t help if no further steps are taken. If you feel the same way about the state of Life Orientation and got fired up reading this article, then I say this to you: use the hour you are given. Use it to initiate something in your class. Discuss this with your friends and classmates and try to find a solution to how you could be using this hour better. It all starts with you.

EduConnect 2Cents

To the Teachers:
I ask that you take a step of initiative and put your years of experience to good use. You have been through what many of your learners are going through or about to go through. You can relate to them because you were once in the stressful position they are in right now. Whether it’s about being bullied as a grade 9 to making life choices in matric. Expose learners to the world and all avenues that lie in front of them. Inspire your students!

To the Learners:
If you aren’t being inspired, inspire yourself. Something I had to learn very quickly was that no one is going to do it for you and if they do, it’s a gift. Teachers are also people, so ask questions about things you want to know, start debates and start opening your own mind. You literally have the world in your hands; read articles, listen to podcasts, watch films and theatre, follow wall street; do all the things that you might find interesting. If you don’t find them interesting, then try something else.

After all…

“An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.” – Niels Bohr      

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