No future for ‘failed’ OBE in SA

2008-11-24 00:00

THE head of the school of education at the University of KZN says outcomes-based education (OBE) has no future in South Africa.

Making his observations to The Witness about why he thinks OBE has failed, Dr Wayne Hugo described the system as the most expensive, most demanding and most difficult curriculum to run.

He said the curriculum is especially wrong for South Africa since it originates from developed countries.

In recent weeks, the debate around the scrapping of OBE has been fuelled by the former vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town, Dr Mamphela Ramphele, one of OBE’s strongest critics, who attacked the system and its implementers for failing the nation.

Speaking at a symposium in Cape Town some weeks ago, Ramphele criticised the government for holding on to what she called “the worst curriculum policy” that had been dumped by countries like Canada, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands when it was found to be lacking.

Hugo said OBE was implemented as a result of enormous pressure on the ruling party to produce an immediate contrast to the apartheid-tainted educational system.

“They basically took a democratic approach that would recognise and empower learners by trying to move away from the teacher-centred form of education. Just like there was a call to integrate on a political level, they started to integrate different subjects in education …”

However, Hugo said, this has served to obscure the subject content by moving towards a theme-dominated curriculum instead of creating a clear structure for each subject.

“It’s important that we don’t paint OBE as this new evil. The heart of OBE is based on good educational principles. It is supposed to take everyone into account by being context-sensitive.

By that I mean, it looks at each learner and where they are as a starting point. But the problem is that the beginning is not the whole story. OBE specifies an outcome without prescribing a clear way to get there as if it is going to happen miraculously. That is not how education works.”

In addition, Hugo said, one of the biggest failures of OBE was destroying content in textbooks by replacing it with activities such as instructions for group discussions and experiments, something he said many schools cannot afford. He said the problem with group work is that it takes time and encourages pupils to talk from their own context without specialised subject content.

“Research shows that schools within developing countries who do group work actually do worse.

But what OBE did was to take power away from teachers by making them facilitators. As a result, teachers lost the respect that comes with being the person who knows …”

However, unlike Ramphele, Hugo said the call for the scrapping of OBE is not the best way forward, as teachers are “reform fatigued”.

“Another political change and teachers are going to vomit. They are exhausted with change.”

Hugo believes education specialists and teachers must reclaim education.

“Due to the massive problems caused by OBE, we can’t avoid change. But we need education experts to step in under the mantle of OBE and start pragmatically making educational changes … We need to start immediately and upgrade teacher skills and make testing more rigorous …”

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