New curriculum, new language options
Pretoria - Pupils now have the option of learning in their mother tongue for the first three years of schooling as part of the new curriculum, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said on Tuesday.
"The language chosen by the learner as a language of learning and teaching shall be taught as a subject, or as a first additional language from Grade 1," Motshekga told the media in Pretoria.
However, Motshekga emphasised that English would not replace pupils' home languages in the early grades.
The new curriculum Schooling 2025 would replace the highly criticised outcomes based education (OBE) system introduced in 1998.
However, OBE would not be completely scrapped but would be modified to improve the performance of school pupils.
This followed calls by teacher unions for OBE to be scrapped instead of modified as had been done.
They believed the system was biased and blamed it for the country's high failure and drop-out rates.
Admitting that the old curriculum had major problems, Motshekga said her department was reviewing the design and methodology of the OBE system.
"We have and will continue to make changes on an ongoing basis where they can be made with minimal disruption.
We expect better outcomes from the system."
Some of the changes in the system included the reduction of the number of projects for pupils with every subject in each grade consisting of its own concise curriculum, mapping out what teachers must teach and assess.
The department had since the beginning of the year done away with the need for portfolio files of pupils' assessments and discontinued the Common Tasks for Assessment for Grade 9s.
These changes followed recommendations by a ministerial committee tasked with the review of the implementation of the National Curriculum Statement in 2009.
The committee supported complaints by teachers that they were overloaded with administrative work and that curriculum goals were unrealistic as some pupils lacked resources like study material and access to the internet.
'The last ghost of 1998'
This was the third time the curriculum had been reviewed since its introduction 12 years ago.
Motshekga said this shuffling was "removing the last ghost of 1998" but was not a wholesale abandoning of the system.
"We now talk of a national curriculum and not OBE... It can't be true that we are phasing it out, we want to ensure stability and no fatigue."
Motshekga commended teachers for working hard despite the difficulties with OBE in the last 12 years - a system which she said paid little attention to knowledge but focused on skill and attitude.
"Things will from now on sail smoothly for them... We are giving them a solid base to move up... we are giving them more of less," she explained.
The policy of continuous assessment had also changed, particularly for Grade 7 to 9. Matrics remained unaffected with 75% of their marks coming from the year-end exams and 25% from continuous assessment.
Motshekga said the phasing in of the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements in primary schools would only happen next year to allow time for the orientation and training of teachers.
"We will phase in other grades in 2012 so that we can make the necessary preparations," said Motshekga.
She said because some of the changes had policy implications, her department would follow due process and invite public comment.
"Our overarching priority is to bring about a fundamental change in schooling outcomes."
Director general for basic education Bobby Soobrayan said they were comfortable with the curriculum as it now stands and that it would ensure that pupils sufficiently understood key areas like literacy and maths.
He said workbooks were an important addition to the new curriculum as they would provide support to 6.5 million pupils from Grades 1 to 6 and to 180 000 teachers in nearly 20 000 schools.
The reshuffle was well received by those in the industry.
Western Cape education minister Donald Grant said if properly implemented, these changes could improve education outcomes.
"We are also especially pleased that the changes will bring back a far greater focus on the use of textbooks and on content knowledge - two aspects we are already focusing on strongly in the Western Cape," Grant said.
"The changes will go a long way to restoring a reasonable balance in the delivery of the curriculum."
Grant said teachers would now have more time to plan classroom schedules and support individual pupils instead of being overburdened with administrative duties.
Leader of the National Professional Teachers' Organisation of South Africa Esrah Ramasehla, commended Motshekga and Soobrayan for embarking on a "coherent" long-term plan for improving education in the country.
"The review process should herald a period of stability and greater confidence in the curriculum."