The evolution of OBE

In my previous two columns in the Teacher, I’ve traced the evolution of outcomes based education (OBE) thinking and implementation over the past 35 years, from its early emphasis on expanding the conditions of success in schools and classrooms to its transformational emphasis.

What I want to explore this month are the practical steps towards translating these concepts into a practical, working school programme. Colleagues and I did this when we established an alternative further education and training (FET) school in 2003 called Heartlight Port Elizabeth.

Our initial groundwork was to delve deeply into the essence of each of the Five Cs – consciousness, creativity, collaboration, competence and compassion. For example, what is the fundamental essence of consciousness and how does it function in people’s lives?

Following this, we further defined the Five Cs to capture their essence. They became a framework of “CIs” that saw learning, living and leadership expressed through one’s conscious identity; creative imagination; collaborative interaction; competent implementation; and compassionate involvement.

Our next step was to define carefully the kind of human beings we were seeking to develop, and how their desired qualities and abilities might be expressed in outcome language. These became declarations of what our learners (and ourselves) were personally committed to becoming, and how. For example: “We are aware, reflective spiritual beings, continuously developing our conscious identity and inner growth by consistently…”


We then addressed the fundamental issues relating to programme structure and curriculum design – what and how were we going to teach our learners so that these outcome declarations would be realised?

We looked long and hard at the conditions faced by adult South Africans and crafted a programme structure that directly addressed them and also resonated beautifully with each of the five CI priorities. This inter-disciplinary structure enabled us to incorporate a host of significant material found in conventional subjects, but combine it in novel, highly relevant ways. For example:

  • Conscious identity is cultivated in a deeply reflective and relevant programme domain called Personal Well-Being. It blends many kinds of learning experiences, including all aspects of physical and psychological health.

  • Creative imagination is cultivated in a very tangible and innovative programme domain called Creative Entrepreneurship. It includes a comprehensive array of practical matters related to starting a profitable business; exploring the discoveries and innovations of others; and developing innovative projects related to individual talents and interests.

  • Collaborative interaction is cultivated in a very practical and engaging programme domain called Communication and Teamwork. It integrates a broad array of oral, written, interactional, graphic, movement and electronic communication skills with an emphasis on leadership building, problem solving, conflict resolution and teamwork-building exercises and projects.

  • Competent implementation is cultivated in a hands-on, individually determined programme domain called Career Competence. This tangible, physical and technical domain of learning integrates a host of practical and strategic skills and emphasises the “know-how” one needs in careers and the “can-do” attitudes that fuel successful performance.

    Compassionate Involvement is cultivated in a deeply engaging and practical programme domain called Environmental Sustainability. It integrates a deep understanding of the conditions that affect the health and sustainability of local communities and the global environment with the practical skills and tools to address those conditions constructively through individual and group projects.

    The “ideal” learning experience integrates and applies elements from three or more of these domains at once.

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