/ 23 October 2009

Revised curriculum a ‘disaster’

Wide-ranging policy confusion and inadequate support of teachers by the education authorities have bedevilled the implementation of the revised outcomes-based education (OBE) school curriculum, a hard-hitting Education Department report reveals.

The report, which makes far-reaching recommendations, has prompted a leading analyst to call on the minister for basic education, Angie Motshekga, to admit that OBE was a mistake.

Nick Taylor, former chief executive of the Joint Education Trust, said that only in this way could bad teaching practices — including the ditching of text books — be eliminated.

The report is based on the findings of a task team Motshekga appointed shortly after taking office. Its work entailed public hearings and interviews with about 400 teachers, as well as considering inputs from unions and parents. The probe arose from criticism of the OBE curriculum and calls for it to be scrapped. Last week the Mail & Guardian reported that Motshekga’s department has been criticised for failing to provide leadership policy direction and monitoring.

Motshekga recently publicised some of the report’s recommendations, but the full document was not released to the media.

It calls for a reduction in the amount of administrative work teachers must do and the dropping of learner portfolios.

It also finds that there are ”far too few” school subject advisers nationwide to provide in-class support to teachers.

The system depends on subject advisers and district staff to act as intermediaries between curriculum policy and classroom implementation. Yet, ”the role of subject adviser differs from province to province” and teachers see them as ”technicists” who demand unnecessary administrative tasks.

In several provinces there are many newly appointed subject advisers ”who have received less training on the curriculum than the teachers themselves and have not had the experience of teaching the curriculum”.

Some subject advisers ”have resorted to developing tools to interpret policies and guidelines that have contributed to the confusion and proliferation of documents and paperwork”.

The report recommends that the role of subject advisers and the exact in-classroom and school support they should give teachers, should be clarified.

It concedes that the assessment of learners since OBE was introduced has been a challenge for teachers. Testing of learners in grades one to nine is based largely on continuous assessment, meaning that teachers cannot gauge whether learners perform in accordance with national standards.

The report recommends that grade three to six learners undergo regular external assessment in maths, a home language and an additional language.

There should be annual national testing for all grade nine learners in maths, home language and a first additional language (English) to ensure a successful transition to grades 10 to 12.

The report points to a ”plethora of policies, guidelines and interpretations of policies and guidelines” at all levels, sowing confusion.

Many teachers and education department staff have not made the shift from the original OBE to the revised curriculum, resulting in ”widespread confusion about the status of the curriculum and assessment policies”.

It recommends that the department develop one curriculum and assessment policy for every learning area.

Taylor said teachers and subject advisers routinely fail the tests for which they are supposed to prepare children. ”We don’t value subject knowledge, or any expertise for that matter, in making civil service appointments and promotions.”