'OBE here to stay'

The Education Department has absolutely no intention of ditching outcomes-based education (OBE), minister Naledi Pandor insisted in an exclusive interview last week. But it had already modified the system and would continue to tweak it.

Pandor revealed that she intends setting up a special “curriculum implementation committee”, comprising education department officials, experts and teachers’ union representatives, to look at:

  • Expanding and improving teacher training;

  • Reducing the current eight learning areas for learners in grades four to seven; and

  • Improving classroom materials.

The media have reported widely that the ANC plans to scrap OBE, information based on reports of a recent meeting hosted by the Development Bank and attended by Pandor and members of the ANC’s national executive committee’s sub-committee on education and health.

A discussion document from the meeting proposed: “Review OBE and if needs be, issue its ‘death certificate’.”

Pandor told the Mail & Guardian she could not understand how it had been inferred that the current curriculum would be scrapped.

She said OBE was a necessary change for South Africa and “we need to make it work.
It would be an absolute disaster to change it, as we’ve got buy-in.

“[Scrapping OBE] will result in terrible problems, worse than those we have. We can’t have another review. We must look at improved implementation.”

Pandor emphasised that the government had already “altered OBE and moved away [from the original approach]. We’ve determined curriculum-specific achievements and learning outcomes. We’ll always use learning outcomes as the basis.”

OBE, which is based on learning through experience and exploration, was introduced to grade one pupils in 1998 to counter Christian National Education and as an antidote to rote learning. Critical thinking is encouraged.

However, there were implementation snags, particularly as teachers had to create the curriculum themselves.

A review committee appointed in 2000 by former education minister Kader Asmal and headed by educationalist Linda Chisholm called for the curriculum to be simplified.

The revised curriculum has continued to be racked with controversy. Inadequately trained teachers have misread it as meaning that textbooks should not be used and pupils should learn to read and write on their own.

About the planned committee Pandor said: “We’ll work with teacher unions to expand and develop teacher training. We’ve never had such a partnership; teacher unions are best placed to respond to training needs.”

She said there were too many learning areas for learners in grades four to seven and the Chisholm committee had recommended reducing them.

“We need to ensure every school has textbooks and that they are utilising them. I walk into classrooms and see textbooks on the teacher’s table or in a corner—and they’re not open.”

Lesson plans were being produced to guide teachers on what to teach.

Chisholm told the M&G the new committee should look into teachers’ “cumbersome” assessment of learners. “No curriculum is perfect; it needs be continuously tweaked in the public domain.”

She cautioned that if a death certificate was issued for OBE, a new curriculum had to be in place. “Otherwise it’s a recipe for disaster.”

South African Democratic Teachers’ Union boss Thulas Nxesi welcomed the Pandor committee initiative, saying the fundamental issues were teacher training and resources.

He slammed those calling for the death of OBE as “reckless, irresponsible and confusing. We will oppose it.”

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