/ 13 May 2005

Laying blame


IT’S a relief to see that education is at last being treated as the national crisis that it is. Steadily dwindling matric pass rates, exemption rates and university enrolments year after year are proof that, beneath the sheen of grand policies, our education system is a very sick animal indeed. Minister of Education Kader Asmal’s ”pull up your socks”, results-oriented approach is long overdue. Poorly performing principals and teachers are being shoved on to centre stage, to be condemned by a deservedly angry public, for their inexcusable shoddiness. But let’s hope that these hard-hitting attempts to improve things do not backfire into misdirected witch-hunting exercises, which will only make things worse.

Let’s also hope that promises to give assistance to badly-performing teachers and principals translate into reality and that teachers do not merely become the scapegoats for other people’s mistakes and dereliction of duties. Education MECs are being called to account at last. But they should be careful to focus their energies along the entire chain of education provision — including the scores of district and provincial officials out there, many of whom draw plump salaries for doing nothing. There is a danger that this new mood of accountability is causing education leaders to lash out wildly and blame the nearest and most vulnerable ”culprits” — more often than not, the teachers — who are not always at fault. So often, the problems are not of their making. It would be unfair and superficial to put the challenges of pupil performance in the hands of teachers alone.

Speaking of education officials, it appears that the grumblings of discontent around jargon-laden Curriculum 2005 and the difficulties of implementation are growing louder. Many are calling for the new curriculum to be reviewed. Some educationists are also less impressed with the gospel according to American outcomes-based education (OBE) ”guru” William Spady and other OBE junkies than they used to be. Rightly or wrongly, he is being blamed for all the confusion teachers now find themselves in. A high-level think tank is being set up to assess the implementation of Curriculum 2005. It is clearly too late to throw out all the work that has been done. And few would argue against the merits of an outcomes-based approach to education which brings the world into the classroom and which encourages us to be active and productive learners rather than rote-learning vegetables.

But perhaps it is time to take stock: encourage teachers to embrace the key principles of OBE but discard some of the unnecessarily confusing terminology, restore their confidence and get back to basics.

— The Teacher/Mail & Guardian, February, 2000.


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