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Media Release

29 January, 2006

The Cape Times published the following article by Cameron Dugmore, MEC for Education in the Western Cape, on Monday, 29 January 2007.

Weíll get there if we pull together

A curriculum must assist in building our nation. The current debate in your newspaper needs to ask to what extent our National Curriculum Statement is succeeding in this. My argument is that our curriculum is well-placed to ensure that it confronts issues of poverty, unemployment and the need for growth and development.

When I was at school in the late 1970ís and early 80ís there was ostensibly no public debate about what we were being taught. The challenges set up by the events of 1976 simmered as authorities pushed on with social engineering characterized by a spending pattern in which, in this province, seven times more money was spent on white children than on African ones.

Teachers had hugely different training; subject options were vastly different; privileged schools had halls, libraries, laboratories and sports fields but, for others, facilities were extremely limited. To date we still have about 650 schools in this province with no school halls.

Your columns have recently carried various opinions on the curriculum. The initial challenge was posed by Alan Lester (January 3) when he said that educators have essentially had 11 years to get ready for this change to the education system, that they need to stop "moaning" and respond more proactively and "professionally". Others then took up the phenomenon / philosophy / methodology / curriculum "OBE" and batted it around. Iíd like to make a few points.

Letís start by asking correspondents to distinguish between a nebulous "OBE" and the actual curriculum in this country - the National Curriculum Statement (NCS). Letís at least locate our criticisms at the right door, so to say.

First off, I must stress that the NCS is not light on the so-called "basics". We are not talking either "OBE" or "the basics"! The proper place for drilling and for phonics for example (the two things that people always bring to arguments about the "basics") is clearly stressed and spelled out in our provincial Literacy and Numeracy Strategy (see http://wced.wcape.gov.za). There is emphasis on "hard skills" right across the 12 years of schooling. The curriculum is a demanding one. We are getting "the basics" right.

A damaged country like ours needs an education programme that is both healing and empowering. This dual vision has informed the outcomes that we are targeting. This country is dealing with poverty and unemployment and our target must be a caring and prosperous nation, imbued with hope and possibilities. We need to work actively on developing core values.

Both our citizens as individuals and our economy need to grow. At the same time, in the world of the information explosion, learning canít be mediated, produced or tested in old ways. Information literacy and critical literacy are additional "fundamentals". The sources we use are different; new skills are needed. The "rules of the game" have changed.

Countries around the world are doing some variant of outcomes-based or standards-based or performance-based education. Our curriculum uses "Assessment Standards" to map out expected levels of performance. Eurybase (www.eurydice.org) reports that all European countries are spelling out "key competencies" in varying degrees.

The Australian system is competency-based, the USA is heavily into "standards-based" programmes. The website (http://edstandards.org/Standards.html) says: "Good teachers have standards in mind when they set their lessons up, where the idea of a "standard" represents a specific idea of what the teacher expects a student to recall, replicate, manipulate, understand, or demonstrate at some point down the road - and of how the teacher will know how close a student has come to meeting that standard".

Outcomes are a natural part of active learning. Because the NCS is criterion-referenced learners compete on a personal level - for mastery - instead of against one another. Learners know how to take positive learning steps because they are clear about the end-result.

To be honest Iím really not clear why spelling out targets for learners and helping them to achieve them will supposedly only work in small classes. Thatís why Iím arguing for separating out the issues and dealing with them plainly. If paperwork is the problem Ė then thatís the problem. Itís not "OBE". If thereís somehow too much "content" then thatís the problem. And so on.

"OBE" in the NCS is not a methodology which is somehow optional. It is, in fact, the means by which the learnerís learning path is mapped, conducted and assessed. As I see it the entire inner logic of the curriculum sits inside the outcomes and their assessment standards - which define the levels, contexts and conditions for acceptable performance.

The second concern noted by your correspondents is "content". This is simply not a debate point. A curriculum needs to modernize. Most of our subjects had not been revised since the 1970s. Just as we couldnít carry on using typewriters once they became obsolete, so we need to adjust to all developments and demands.

I think itís completely correct and visionary to equip learners with a general education in economic and management sciences, arts and culture, technology, life orientation, natural sciences, social sciences (which includes history and geography) and at least two languages and mathematics. Iím happy that learners, in the last three years of schooling, will study Life Orientation formally, be mathematically literate as a minimum, have two languages and a further three purposeful subjects. This is solid preparation for life after school.

What about the stresses?

Yes teachers have been put under additional stress. I freely admit this. Even highly experienced and competent teachers have had to work really hard at mastering new content to meet new policy requirements. The teacher faces questions daily about standards, prioritizing, pacing of teaching and shifting departmental prescripts.

Systems themselves are under stress. Testing and assessment have been problematic and will continue to raise questions until things have settled down. The predictability and stability that we were used to have gone. Thatís always hard to deal with.

Our learners have been put under stress. They have had Ė in many cases Ė to compensate for the problems their teachers and schools have been having as they work out levels and assessment standards, the pacing of teaching and so on.

For me the bottom line is that we have a new curriculum. It is currently being phased in to schools. The timelines are set; it is not going to "go away". Weíre now in the final phase. The curriculum is being bedded down. The NCS is in Grades 8, 9, 10 and 11 so itís only the last hurdle of Grade 12 in 2008 that lies ahead.

Soon teachers in the FET band will be in a position to build up their resources, grow in confidence and eventually move back into the pattern of maintenance which we are seeing now with Foundation and Intermediate Phase teachers.

The managers of the National Senior Certificate process, both nationally and locally, are working around the clock to put all possible measures in place to facilitate the last few stages of this transition smoothly.

We must value constructive criticism and solutions. Alan Lesterís upbeat approach, for example, is appealing. Itís important to get things right. It would be careless to assume that everythingís fine when it isnít. But negativism, despair and gloom are very insidious things. I have to say that I am concerned for the morale and confidence of our vulnerable learners. Who wants to be labeled a "guinea pig" in a system which has allegedly "failed" world-wide?

Fact: our new curriculum prepares our learners far better for the 21st century than its predecessor (teachers will acknowledge that current teaching is driven far more by our managed shifts in matric examining than by the literal prescripts of our outdated syllabi).

Fact: all roleplayers Ė department, teachers, learners, parents are working hard to protect the interests of learners.

Fact: both national and provincial departments are doing their best to respond to the pleas and concerns of teachers (and, yes, we have not heard much from parents or learners).

I am asking schools to set targets for 2007. I look forward to evidence that schools can put OBE theory to the test in this target-setting exercise. Schools will define targeted outcomes and spell out (and then conduct) the steps needed to convert these targets into reality.

Itís no good setting impossible targets. Itís no good setting targets that are window-dressing. For schools that have been recording improvements already the 2007 target could be "maintenance" Ė maybe itís time for consolidation and review.

We are looking for improved literacy and numeracy performances. For schools offering the Senior Certificate we need targets for exemptions, for success in Maths and Science etc. We want to reduce the "drop out" rate too.

Letís make it a solutions-based approach. Iíll continue to keep my own door open. We will keep listening. We will keep being as responsive as possible. This is a human capital development programme on a huge scale: we canít afford to get it wrong.

We must massify the impact of the NCS via passionate principals and teachers who understand its value and are committed to making it work in every school, ECD site, ABET centre and FET college campus.

For enquiries, contact Gert Witbooi:  082 550 3938, or gwitbooi@pgwc.gov.za.

Issued by:
Gert Witbooi
Media Liaison Officer
Office of the MEC for Education
Western Cape
Tel: 021 467 2523
Fax: 021 425 5689

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