A curriculum too far?

2008-11-11 00:00

A recent correspondent to this newspaper has joined educational heavyweights Mamphela Ramphele, Jonathan Jansen and William Spady in expressing vehemently negative views on South Africa’s outcomes-based curriculum, blaming it for the educational decline of recent years.

Most of their criticisms are certainly true of the discredited Curriculum 2005, which was launched amid much fanfare in 1998. There was a profound irony in the introduction of this curriculum. It was intended to “level the playing fields”. In calling for a “complete paradigm shift” many of the educational apparatchiks were hoping that the whole establishment would be forced to start at ground zero, thereby eliminating the advantages enjoyed by some teachers and schools.

However, in driving an educational bulldozer into the creaky, outdated structure, which was South Africa’s immediate post-apartheid education, the ideologues achieved exactly the opposite result. As many have observed, the difference between the so-called “advantaged” schools and the rest has become exponentially greater. Even more problematic than having introduced the curriculum was the bull-headed decision to keep it in place, despite the Chisholm Report, released in early 2000, having found it to be gravely flawed.

What is really unfortunate is that the revised curriculum, known as the National Curriculum Statement, has been tarred with the same brush as its predecessor. Critics need to notice that this is a much more conservative and therefore attainable curriculum, which, while not without its flaws, charts a middle course between the extreme looseness of Curriculum 2005 and the rigid, fact-based, 1997 curriculum.

The problem now lies with the educational establishment. A tradition of making political rather than educational appointments has become so deeply ingrained in the system that the capacity to provide the necessary leadership for curriculum change to take place has been profoundly undermined.

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