Educational Psychology in Social Context: Ecosystemic Applications in Southern Africa (4th edition)

| June 2, 2011 | 1 Comment

Authors: David Donald, Sandy Lazarus and Peliwe Lolwana
Publisher : Oxford University Press Southern Africa (Pty) Ltd
ISBN: 978-0-1-19-598986-1
Reviewed by Educational Psychologist Lynn Sonderup

Each day in the classroom presents a new challenge for teachers. As they grapple with the complex and multifaceted demands that face them, the enormity can, at times, feel overwhelming. How do newly qualified educators actually start to conceptualise the many levels in the schooling system that they have influence over, and that, in turn, influence their teaching?

Feelings of power or usefulness can be eroded by the scale of interventions needed – where to start and what to do? There are wonderful books to read and excellent courses to attend, but to obtain an all-encompassing perspective on a process that is appropriate to the South African context is difficult. Educational Psychology in Social Context (4th edition) sets out to do just this. It is a book that empowers those preparing for a career in teaching, as well as current teachers, by developing their understanding of the interaction of all the ecosystemic systems in education – the child, school, family, peer group, local community, wider community and the broad social system.

Authors’ combined experience and expertise enable them to accomplish difficult task

Authors Donald, Lazarus and Lolwana have not set themselves an easy task, but their combined academic qualifications and extensive experience in policy, child and community development, and applied psychology enable them to accomplish it. Using ecosystemic theory as the theoretical underpinning of the book helps readers to keep an overall framework in mind while they grapple with the constant reminders that there are no simple, linear answers to the questions and concerns around education in South Africa.

As educationalists, we constantly have to bear in mind that a child’s development is shaped by his or her social context, and that one can only truly understand the way things are by appreciating the ongoing and dynamic interactions between the multiple contexts in education.

Stimulating meta-cognitive thinking

The authors’ thorough knowledge of South African issues is reflected throughout the book, and is central to its success. They refer to the work as a “textbook” for student teachers and teachers already in the educational system, and their style is extremely userfriendly and well thought out in this regard, particularly for new teachers and
students.

I really enjoyed the way each chapter starts with a case study, and then links the theory and discussion back to the case study. The authors put into practice the theory they proffer – readers are encouraged to relate what they read to their own lives and to engage with the case study by thinking through challenging questions about what they have read.

Whilst they establish clear outcomes, the authors also invite the reader to “stop and reflect” while reading the chapter, again stimulating meta-cognitive thinking. They also take care to explain certain words and terminology by using annotations in the margins. At the conclusion to each chapter, there are activities, further outcomes and an issue to debate, all of which could be used by students to further their understanding, or to use as assignments or group work.

There are comprehensive references for further reading, and I particularly liked the end notes at the conclusion of each chapter, which give additional explanation on certain details contained in the chapter.

Taking social contexts into account

The book is ambitious in that it incorporates an enormous amount of information on the transformation of education in South Africa. Theories and practical guidelines are often explained in less than a page, giving the reader a broad understanding of the most salient ideas. The book is grounded in theories of human development that take social contexts into account. The authors give an overview of the current importance of constructivism in teaching, and then discuss inclusive learning environments.

The chapters contain some practical interventions to develop school-community partnerships and health-promoting schools. Whilst the authors point out that they avoid ‘recipes’ for success, these practical ideas are a considerable strength of the book.

Relevant content and clear structure

The authors devote considerable space to the discussion of specific South African social concerns that impact on education, and they elaborate on substance abuse and violence, as well as HIV and Aids. Again, I thought that their practical advice was most helpful.

The chapters on disabilities and learning difficulties give an overview of the causes and characteristics of specific difficulties, as well as appropriate interventions that teachers can apply in the classroom. In conclusion, I believe that this book is very well constructed as a reference book for teacher development, particularly for student teachers entering the profession.

The content is relevant and the structure so clear that it makes the complex and broad range of information easy to understand, which helps to convey what the authors feel is fundamental for the reader – a belief that each teacher can and should be instrumental in transforming education in South Africa.

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Category: Book Reviews, Winter 2011

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  1. Mhlengi says:

    Thank u very much for this book on educational psychology, it is very interesting and easy to use yes this type of work deserve big thank from us the students of education.

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