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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Curriculum dynamics continues to fail teachers and learners in South Africa

Matthew Botsime

In my previous article I argued that the school did not prepare us for the future. I made the argument that, essential life skills such as financial literacy and entrepreneurship should be taught at school.

In this article I will speak to how changes in the education system continue to children in that, schools do not prepare them for the 21st century.

This article was triggered by one One Day Leader 2017 episode, the contestant debated about the education system and their focus was on the curriculum.

The topic of the debate was “Do schools offer curriculumn that meet the ever-changing needs of the world”.

As I watched the debate I posed the following questions to myself:
Am I preparing my students for the future?
Am I equipping them with the knowledge and skills that they will need in the future?

To answer this question, I will give a brief history of the dynamics in the education system of South Africa.

Since the dawn of democracy, the education system has changed at least four times: the was the Outcome Based Education implemented in 2000; this was followed by the Revised National Curriculum Statement implemented in 2002; then there was the National Curriculum statement of 2007 and the one currently in use, the Curriculum Assessment and Policy Statement implemented back in 2012.

When the Outcome Based Education was introduced I was in Grade 7. Our teachers were confused and stressed and did not know what to do.  They also found their subjects confusing with long acronyms i.e. MLMMS  (Mathematics Literacy Math and Mathematical Science), EMS ( Economic and Management Sciences) , LLC (Language Learning Culture).

In 2006 I started my high school career and this brought about even more confusion.  We had two teachers for every subject and they too did not know what to do.

In her article Continuous Change in Curriculum: South African Teacher’s Perceptions published in the Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, Nondwe Ngibe argues that constant change in South Africa’s education curriculum affected teachers in a way that teachers were not sure on how to implement the new curriculum introduced. They found themselves confused and stressed, which led to the underperformance of learners in some schools. She makes the recommendation that the South Africa Government should actively involve the teachers in formulating and/or drafting any policy that will affect curriculum since they are the custodians and implementers of the curriculum.

“Not only those changes in curriculum should not come overnight; there should a year or two for piloting any new curriculum so as to see the effect and its validity before being released for use in schools,” she says.

I concur with Ngibe’s theory. I experienced these changes both as a learner, a student and as an educator.

I completed my BA degree in 2009 at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU). I then I enrolled for a Post-Graduate Certificate in Education at Rhodes University in 2010.  Here, we were introduced to the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) curriculum which was still a proposed curriculum at the time.

I started my teaching career in 2011 and a year later, in 2012, CAPS was formally introduced. In 2013 I went for two days training.

At the time I taught Arts, Culture and Life orientation for Grades eight and nine. The subject was suddenly changed from Arts & Culture to Creative Arts.

We were now expected to teach four art forms: Dance, Drama, Music, Visual Art and Dance. My learning area manager and I came to a conclusion that we will only offer Drama and Dance because of the resources that would be required for each art form.

The point I am making is, after all these changes made to the curricula, and the two days training, I was not confident enough to impart the knowledge to the student.

The current curriculum is not doing justice to the teachers and learners. Teaching and learning are not occurring as much as they are supposed to occur.

I once read an article on how the CAPS curriculum is causing harm to the learners.

The article mentioned that the curriculum was too rigid and too assessment oriented. It made the argument that the curriculum also made no time for consolidation, and that there too much homework given to the learner.

I share same sentiments.  I taught for 8 years in South Africa and I was overwhelmed as a teacher.

I taught in both private and public schools.

The last school I taught in South Africa was private school which followed the Independent Examination Board (IEB) curriculum. However, the curriculum was also aligned to CAPS.

Still, I found that I enjoyed teaching at schools using IEB more than the state school because in the IEB there has flexibility.  Here, I was the curriculum designer for Life Orientation for grades nine and 10. I had the autonomy to choose what and how I want to teach unlike in the state schools where the teachers are restricted by pace setters.

In state schools, the pace setter forces you to teach and assess your students regardless of whether the concepts learned were understood or not.

The IEB curriculum is more flexible and it allowed us to stretch the learning unit to the following term. We used inquiry and simulation-based learning approach in our classes. We taught learners concepts and we would give them adequate time to inquire and simulate what they have learnt through presentations, role plays and reflections.

Another issue is that of assessments. We need to look at when it is necessary to assess our learners and change the current South African assessment age. For example, Finland is ranked number one in education. The country is said to have the best education system in the world.

In Finland, teachers have autonomy to choose what they want to teach and they are allowed to primarily focus on teaching and learning.

Learners in Finland do not write exams until age 16.

This may be one of the many issues with the education system in South Africa.

A grade one learner writes his or her first assessment in their first term of school. Have we considered what the long-term implications of this might be?

When we look at the pressure experienced by teachers caused by changing policies prescribed by the department of education; the pressure for teachers to adhere to a pace set by the department as well as early and excessive assessments, I firmly believe that a review of South Africa’s education system is much overdue.

Teachers should be given the freedom.

Matthew Botsime is an educationist and community developer.

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