Forget farming. Rather prepare learners for the 4th industrial revolution

Children learn about gardening. Picture: iStock
Children learn about gardening. Picture: iStock

The Congress of South African Students has for the first time in its history made daring proposals on the specifics of the contents of the public school curriculum.

Cosas wants agriculture to be declared a compulsory school subject.

This public stance comes hot on the heels of the decision of national government to introduce history as a compulsory school subject for all the learners at public secondary schools.

The stance by Cosas should not be taken for granted given the historical and political role that it has played both in our communities and the public education milieu.

Cosas has also been a breeding ground for successive generations of leaders in the governing party.

Like other political organisations Cosas has had its own fair share of political controversy – the most recent being the decision by its eThekwini branch to be addressed by the ousted former President Jacob Zuma on the subject of free education.

Even though Cosas denied that such a move indicated its position in the ongoing ANC factional battles, this was the same Cosas that protested outside Parliament in support of the former president when he was faced with another motion of no confidence.

Whatever we make of Cosas as a political player it remains a force to reckon with given its historical alliance with the governing ANC.

But history has taught us that political fortunes change with times depending on how a political formation adapts to the rapidly changing political environment.

Whether Cosas will retain its influence in politics and education is anybody’s guess.

But the declaration by Cosas that the teaching of agriculture as a school subject will help prepare learners for working on the supposedly farming land which could be appropriated by government is rather a short-sighted view of the complexities of school curriculum change.

The management of curriculum change is a complex transformative process which cannot be influenced by a knee-jerk political response to dominant political issues of the day.

History has taught us that the content, form and pace of school curriculum change cannot be determined by a single agent.

When government abruptly opted for the infamous version of the Outcomes Based Educational approach to the school curriculum, it was only a matter of time that it conceded that the planned change did not work and it then commissioned several processes aimed at managing curriculum change in a more responsible, efficient and effective manner.

The government then dropped an obsolete version of OBE and opted for a revised school curriculum whose implementation took almost 10 years to complete.

The previously misguided approach to curriculum change cost the country a lot of money and substantial loss of goodwill on the part of other stakeholders in public education.

There was quite a number of teachers who deserted the classroom due to their inability to cope with the impossible demands imposed on them by the unrealistic approach to curriculum change.

Business also doubted the questioned the capacity of government to manage curriculum change.

One could argue that as a result, business could not invest its capital in a failing government driven curriculum change experiment.

The failures of government to effectively manage the process of curriculum change also resulted in a decline in public confidence.

My limited research on curriculum change, among other findings, highlighted the intensity of contestation in the management of the curriculum change process.

After the government abandoned the outdated version of the OBE curriculum approach, there were significant initiatives by other education stakeholders aimed at influencing the government curriculum change initiatives.

For example, major teacher unions in the country prepared their members for the ongoing curriculum change process by driving their own teacher training programmes which helped their members to cope with the stresses.

Maybe Cosas could take a leaf out of the unions’ book and begin to secure resources which would enable Cosas to train its members of the complexities of curriculum change.

I tend to be sympathetic to Cosas’s venture into the pertinent debates on curriculum change but I am disappointed by its politically ambitious stance of linking the teachings/learning of agriculture and how (Cosas) envisages the outcome of the current processes aimed at the implementation of government policy on the appropriation of land without compensation.

The stance of Cosas also tends to oversimplify the very idea of appropriation of land without compensation.

Surely agriculture as a school subject does not necessarily imply that a large number of learners upon graduating from school, would be scattered in the farming fields of South Africa ploughing their newly found land.

Cosas’s stance seems to be a desperate political posturing with the view to find some space in the rapidly unfolding processes associated with the prevailing idea of appropriation of land without compensation.

There seem to be a dominant view not only in Cosas but also in the governing party that the determination of school subjects is a fundamental aspect of the effective management of school curriculum change.

There is actually more to the process of curriculum change than “nicely” packaging school subjects for teachers and learners.

Recent trends in curriculum change indicate a move towards the elimination of school subjects as core to school curriculum.

These trends indicate that governments can offer public school education without compartmentalising education into fragmented school subjects.

The debate on curriculum change should have its focus beyond the unfolding social, economic and political drama about appropriation of land without compensation.

But such crucial debates should rather prepare leaners for the inevitable demands of the fourth industrial revolution.

The agendas for curriculum change debates should be in line with the developments around the fourth industrial revolution.

Such agendas, should seek answers to deep questions on issues of technological skills, artificial intelligence, the individual’s capacity to manage change, challenges of globalisation, anti-bias curriculum and reclaiming our Africanness just to mention a few possible items for agendas of curriculum change debates.

Given these complex macro challenges of curriculum change, surely, the issue of compulsory teaching of agriculture would be lost in the scheme of more compelling debates on school curriculum change.

Dr Tutu Faleni is a Democratic Alliance member of the North West Provincial Legislature. He was previously a lecturer in curriculum studies at the Potchefstroom campus of the North West University. He writes in his personal capacity.

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