Getting ahead of the curve: School subjects promoting creative thinking, problem solving in the pipeline

(File, iStock)
(File, iStock)

Subjects promoting creative thinking, problem solving, innovation and collaboration are in the pipeline for pupils in schools.

So said basic education director-general Mathanzima Mweli in an interview with City Press this week on the sidelines of a two-day indaba hosted in Pretoria by the Education Labour Relations Council – a bargaining council that serves the public education sector provincially and nationally to maintain labour peace.

Mweli said technical maths and science, which prepare pupils to study engineering at universities and public colleges, were introduced to schools and matriculants would be tested on them this year.

He said this was part of the department's strategy to equip pupils with skills and improve the quality of education to fit the needs of a changing world.

At the indaba senior education officials from national and provincial education departments and union representatives discussed how schools should look like in future.

Discussions also centred on reviewing the current Peter Morkel model used by provinces to provide schools with teachers. Early childhood development (ECD) practitioners will be promoted to Grade R teachers.

Consultants from Deloitte have been tasked to come up with an ideal model to distribute teachers to schools, which would be standard across the country.

At the moment, provincial education departments decide on their own how many teachers should be provided for each school.

The Peter Morkel model – a policy used by the department to provide school teachers – has been criticised by unions and experts over the years for only being concerned about providing teachers without taking into consideration other needs of pupils, especially in poor schools.

'Radical and revolutionary' approach

Mweli said there may also be a need for a "radical and revolutionary" approach that would challenge existing policies and could lead to the amendment of current legislation.

"Consistent with the notion of the new dawn, we need to look at ways of repositioning the basic education sector to provide skills for a changing world. We need to review our current systems and models. We started with ECD to lay a firm and solid foundation for a quality education. What is key is the teachers you provide because those are foot soldiers who must provide quality education in the context of skills for a changing world. We are interrogating our current model, whether it's keeping with where we want to be in 2030. We are also looking at a model that can afford us quality education in the context of skills for a changing world."

He said during discussions parties acknowledged that budget and resources for education were diminishing. "Our budgeting and resource allocation is getting reduced virtually year by year, based on the economic situation that the country finds itself in. Budget cuts and reprioritising affect education like all other sectors. We are saying what we need to do is to make sure that we still continue with our efforts of providing quality education."

He said the indaba afforded an opportunity to reflect what could be changed instead of continuously repeating things yearly without knowing if there were improvements or not.

International visits

Mweli said this year a team of officials and unionists was sent to seven countries, including Finland, which is rated as the best in the world, to study what they were doing right.

He said parties at the indaba agreed on a need to factor in those lessons drawn from the international visits that would work for the country.

He believes that a focus on ECD foundation could work towards providing quality education.

Creative thinking, problem solving, innovation and collaboration are skills that education systems in the whole world are looking at, Mweli said.

"That includes [the fourth] industrial revolution, entrepreneurship, technical and vocational education. That's the package of skills for a changing world."

These subjects are part of a three-stream model to produce the kind of pupils for a workforce required in the developing world.

He said a pilot was underway for the technical occupational stream, which would be offered in schools for skills. Next year, this subject would be implemented.

Schools of specialisation

Gauteng has started with schools of specialisation, which feature aviation, and technical and vocational skills.

"But we are also saying we need to increase the number of art schools. We have art schools in this country. The artists who end up getting qualified in universities and pursuing their careers in performance arts come from our schools. We've got maritime schools and what we are looking for is to increase the number so as to ensure that the greater majority of our people have access to that. Plans are in place to unfold that," he said.

During discussions at the indaba, Mweli said "a radical and revolutionary" shift could mean that the department may have to reduce posts of school management teams - those who manage day-to-day operations of schools - in favour of more teachers.

He said there were countries like Zimbabwe, Germany and Italy that prioritised providing more teachers than school management teams.



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