The world is rapidly changing, and the Department of Education (DBE) is responding with a plan that aims to prepare learners to adapt to a new world. Ecubed (E3), a DBE programme using playful project-based learning as a learning methodology, unlocks an entrepreneurial mindset in school learners. The E3 programme focuses on entrepreneurship, employability, and education, emphasising learning as a lifelong process. Dr Ria de Villiers is the Curriculum and Schools’ Implementation Manager for E3.
Dr De Villiers, an alumna of the University of the Free State (UFS), is passionate about education as a vehicle to unlock competencies and agency, ensuring that people are fully engaged in work and life. Dr De Villiers therefore invests great effort in contributing to a more relevant education system. “I feel compelled to do something about the challenges we see in education, especially since it is such a vital part of our human (and societal) development,” she says.
Loving the buzz at schools, the smell of dust and chalk, Dr De Villiers really has a heart for teachers. “Teachers are often unacknowledged, and the work they do is critical,” she believes. She realised that as a teacher, her reach was too small to solve the problems in the South African education system. Therefore, she works as a teacher trainer, where she feels she can have a broader impact.
Her work as implementation manager for E3 allows her to make a positive impact on the education sector, while managing the creation of new learning materials online and face to face, as well as working in teacher development.
The difference in a changed world
Talking about E3, she says the programme prepares learners to acquire skills, knowledge, attitude, and mindset to be business owners or employers while being lifelong learners. The traditional way of teaching is changing, and with skills acquired through the E3 programme, school leavers will be ready to attend a tertiary institution, be prepared for the job market, and/or be able to start a business.
This is not the first time that Dr De Villiers has found herself in the education arena. She received her doctorate in Applied Linguistics from the UFS Faculty of the Humanities under the supervision of Prof Willfred Greyling in the Department of English. Her dissertation was titled, The impact of a discourse-based teacher counselling model in training language teachers for outcomes-based education. Assisting government and teacher unions with the training of teachers helped her to obtain the data for her PhD, in which she proposed a teacher-counselling model to promote teacher efficacy and agency.
Teaching across borders
A big part of her career was spent in the education environment, although she worked as a businesswoman and freelance consultant for more than 30 years – first as teacher and university lecturer, and later as co-founder of Future Entrepreneurs, a publishing and teacher-support business.
But it was when she started a language school that her communication business, Jika Communication and Training, came into being; it was not long before this enterprise developed into a leading training organisation for entrepreneurship education programmes endorsed by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Together with the ILO, she worked on a series of 30 business simulation games and role-plays to promote progressive teaching methodologies, learner-centredness, and activity-based experiential learning.
Teaching others about learning also allowed Dr De Villiers to cross South African borders when she facilitated the reworking of the vocational curriculum for the Indonesian government. She has done training at all teacher-training colleges in Dar-es-Salaam and Zanzibar for the Ministry of Education in Tanzania.
A more humane, learner-centred approach
In our changing world, and as it pertains to the education system, Dr De Villiers truly believes that training and teaching needs a more humane, learner-centred approach, with mutual respect between trainer and learner.
She remains inspired to continue making a difference in the sector. “I want schooling to improve and gear itself for a rapidly changing world. I want young people who are out of work to find their voice and place in the economy. I want every school learner to develop the agency and confidence to stand up in class and ask a question without any fear of losing face. And I want teachers to develop that agency too as they become more and more autonomous, self-reliant, and confident enough to teach using progressive methodologies.”