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Research & Publications


1. National education policy and the learning subject: exploring the gaps. Patti Silbert, Perspectives in Education, 27(4) 2009



I explore the relationship between education policy and identity by looking at how the learning subject is constituted at national education policy level. The notion of the “ideal South African learning subject”, which I suggest, foregrounds national education policy discourse, contradicts the reality of continued class, race, cultural and gender divisions that influence ways in which identity is constructed. The representation of the “ideal” learning subject has resulted in the over looking of contextual realities that have played a crucial role in defining the identities of young South Africans. It is the disconnect between this policy borrowing orientation on the one hand, and the contextual realities of a country that continues to be fractured by race and class that is of interest here. My focus in this paper is how the learning subject is imagined at policy level and this will be addressed by examining what is said about the subject as well as what is not said. The absence of a clear articulation of the learning subject relates to evident gaps in national policy discourse, namely, that of difference and diversity. By making use of text analyses, sections of two policy documents are examined. First, I analyse sections of the Whole school Evaluation (WSE) Policy as an example of a key National Policy, and thereafter explore how the subject is constituted in The South African Schools Act (SASA). By drawing out recurrent themes and exploring am biguities within these texts, competing discourses are exposed which serve to influence how the meaning of the subject is constructed at policy level. 






2. Corporal punishment and the achievement of educational success: perceptions of learners in the South African school context: Patti Silbert, Perspectives in Education, (58) 2013




This article examines students’ responses to corporal punishment and their perceptions of

corporal punishment as a necessary form of discipline that brings benefit to individuals in

their pursuit of success. By focussing on the notion of ‘success’ as a dominant market

discourse, I describe how this rhetoric is reinforced through the disciplinary practice of

corporal punishment – and how learners on the whole regard this form of punishment as

beneficial in achieving their educational aspirations. Foucault’s notion of discipline offers a

useful conceptual framework in understanding how corporal punishment operates to

regulate conduct and codify behaviour according to what is regarded as acceptable and

desirable. Research findings suggest that most students who are recipients of corporal

punishment display limited capacity for resistance and that students’ perceptions of the

effectiveness of corporal punishment, function to reinforce their construction as disciplined,

hard-working and ‘docile’ subjects.




3. Towards functional school libraries: supporting library assistants in under-resourced schools through a university-community-school partnership 

Patti Silbert and Constance Bitso, South African Journal of Library and Information Sciences, 81(1) 2015



 This article reports on an ongoing study on building a collaborative support model for library assistants in a group of schools in the Western Cape township of Khayelitsha through a university-community-school partnership. The Cascading Support Model was conceptualised as a community of practice between the University of Cape Town’s Schools Improvement Initiative, UCT’s Library and Information Studies Centre, The Bookery and a group of schools in Khayelitsha. Given the complexity of challenges facing schools in impoverished communities, this collaborative model is presented as a strategy to support library assistants in creating functional school libraries. Using a qualitative, interpretive approach, the study employs an ethnographic research method to describe the collaborative support model offered through the community of practice. The results show that universities are well positioned through their partnership with community organisations and schools to help create models of support through which expertise can be harnessed and disseminated. As a support strategy for library assistants, the Cascading Support Model represents a shift from conventional mentoring models towards a wider community of practice. 






Patti Silbert, Jonathan Clark & Jacqui Dornbrack, South African Journal of Higher Education, 29(3) 2015




The purpose of this article is twofold: the first is to describe the Schools Improvement Initiative (SII) at the University of Cape Town (UCT) – a university-school partnership implemented in six schools in the Western Cape township of Khayelitsha. The second purpose is to report on the methodology of the case study as used during the initial stage of the intervention. Working in collaboration with faculties and groupings within UCT; with education-related organisations in the community; and with the Metropole East Education District (MEED), the SII aims to bring about systemic school improvement in its partner schools. Through purposeful collaboration, the SII focuses its interventions on both the professional development of teachers and the organisational development of the school. Underpinning the SII’s work is a context specific approach, and it is through the methodology of the case study that this is achieved. The case study is used as an initiator of dialogue and a preliminary ‘step to action’ (Adelman, Jenkins and Kemmis 1980 in Cohen, Manion and Morrison 2009, 256). Accurately generated data from the case study, that is shared openly with the participants, can be a powerful way to generate trust and collaboration, and engage all stakeholders in school improvement initiatives.




5. “Assembling” the ideal learner: The school assembly as regulatory ritual. Patti Silbert & Heather Jacklin, Review of Education, Pedagogy and Cultural Studies, 37(4), 2015