OBE gets overhauled

2010-07-24 13:33

Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga sits alone in a plush office the size of an RDP house at the new Sol Plaatje House building in Struben Street, central Pretoria.

“There is a nice view of the Union Buildings when you are out on the ­patio,” Motshekga points out.

It’s a far cry from the mud and stable schools of Eastern Cape, and the places where learners study under trees.

Motshekga does not have to share her computer or her beautiful chair with her personal assistant, nor does she share her office with another minister. She does not even share a building with Blade Nzimande, the higher education and training minister.

The information the basic education department has gleaned from its report on the yearly school survey for 2010 shows that 6 427 schools had multigrade classes in 2008 and that the country’s average class size was 38.

Numerous schools have large classes. For example, in 2008 more than 6% of schools had an average class size of 60, while close on 10% of schools had an average class size of ­between 51 and 60.

This yearly survey indicates that 10 years after the then education minister Professor Sibusiso Bhengu implemented outcomes-based education (OBE), South Africa still lacks the resources needed to implement it.

Professor Muxe Nkondo, spokesperson for the Association of Black Empowerment in Higher Education, said “you can forget about OBE when only 2.7% of schools have libraries because OBE is resource-driven, project-orientated and learner-centred”.

“You can’t transplant OBE from Canada, Australia or any advanced economy without due regard to our historical condition,” Nkondo said.

Asked why she amended OBE when two successive ministers (Kader Asmal and Naledi Pandor) continued to let it run even when international benchmarking studies showed South African learners fell short when compared with their global peers in numeracy and literacy tests, Motshekga said she would not want to take sole credit for addressing OBE’s challenges.

“When I arrived, I found Pandor had already written the terms of references on what to do next,” Motshekga said. She also admitted the country did not have the required resources for OBE.

The question stands: Why was it adopted in the first place?

Motshekga said the excitement generated by the era of democracy was to blame. “Christian national education entrenched the supremacy of whites and Bantu education was clearly meant to keep blacks in servitude. We needed a new beginning, and OBE’s values were attractive because we derived our ­principles from democracy.

“Learners were encouraged to be ­independent, creative and ­active ­participants in class, to become ­engineers of their own knowledge.

“OBE’s principles were close to what South Africa as a new country and ­democracy aspired to,” she said.

Motshekga said things went awry when they had to implement the broad principles of OBE in classrooms.

She referred to Professor Jonathan Jansen’s report. “It pointed out we were producing kids who can’t sit down and listen. They were constantly moving about because they were used to being in groups doing teamwork.”

The other problem, Motshekga ­admitted, was that teachers failed to grasp the new teaching methodologies.

“This teacher failure undermined OBE when so much relied on teachers’ professionalism,” she said.

It was not possible for a teacher with 60 learners to give all of them four projects per subject and still profile each one of them.

There was also the challenge of ­cohort progression. “Teachers had to profile each learner. They had to write in their file if a learner had diction problems or any other challenge. These ­reports were to be filed every day.

“You couldn’t fail learners and the next teacher had to go through their profiles to understand each learner. Most teachers just passed the learners because a teacher had to justify why a learner failed and had to have reported that as early as March. Added to that, parents could contest the teacher findings. A hard-working teacher could end up with a nervous breakdown,” Motshekga explained.

Scheduled for this year is cutting teachers’ heavy workload by reducing the number of projects for learners, removing the requirement for portfolio files of learner assessments and discontinuing the common tasks for assessment of grade 9 learners.

The target for 2012 is to reduce the number of subjects in grades 4 to 6 from eight to six.

The importance of textbooks in learning and teaching has also been re-emphasised. Motshekga expressed confidence that workbooks for grades 1 to 6 being developed by her department would be in schools on time next year. She said the project would provide resource support for 6.5 million learners and about 180 000 teachers in nearly 20 000 schools.

“There is an assumption that parents have the ability and time to assist their children. This is a dangerous ­assumption and we are no longer going to print workbooks for parents. However, those parents who are interested will be able to download them.”

About the future, Motshekga said: “The road is rocky, if not mountainous. We still have an apartheid infrastructure backlog with learners in mud schools and stables in Eastern Cape, and Gauteng is suffering from an overcrowding problem. Some primary schools have 850 learners. Ideally, it should be between 400 and 600.”

Her Action Plan 2014: Towards Schooling 2025 – which will include the building of schools with proper sanitation facilities, laboratories, ­libraries, teacher development, education and support – was tabled at a Cabinet lekgotla last week.

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