Curriculum Development: Lessons from South Africa


The article entitled “A Strategy for Teacher Involvement in Curriculum Development” by Ramparsad (2001) discusses effective strategies for involving practitioners in curriculum development. Ramparsad begins the article by providing a brief history of the educational system in South Africa.  Historically, South Africa was an apartheid state and all educational systems and curricula were centrally controlled. Ramparsad argues that this centralized model of educational delivery, with its centrally created and disseminated curricula, led educators to become technicians rather than professionals. In 1994, after the collapse of apartheid, South Africa held free and fair elections for the first time.  These elections ushered in majority rule and led to a new focus on creating an egalitarian society.  The educational system under apartheid had been geared toward educating the white minority.  However, with the collapse of apartheid, the need arose to address the shortcomings in the existing educational institutions and curricula in order to achieve a more egalitarian educational system and society.   

As part of this effort, in 1996, the government of South Africa developed a new ten year curriculum known as the “2005 curriculum” to replace the curricula used under apartheid.  As part of developing this curriculum, the government sought greater teacher participation during all four phases of curriculum development including the design phase, the dissemination phase, the implementation phase, and the evaluation phase.  To assess the level of teacher participation in developing the “2005 curriculum”, Ramparsad (2001) conducted interviews with foundational grade one teachers.  The purpose of these interviews was to assess whether teachers had the necessary skills and training to effectively engage in the curriculum development process and their feelings and anxieties during the development and implementation of the “2005 curriculum”.  Ramparsad used the findings from these interviews to inform the adaptation of the national “2005 curriculum” by  Provincial level authorities in the Gauteng Province Department of Education (the province where Pretoria and Johannesburg are located).   

Ramparsad’s study identified three main recommendations for the Gauteng Province Department of Education to improve teacher involvement in the curriculum development process.  First, the Province needed to dedicate time to train teachers on curriculum development in order to give them the knowledge and skills necessary to participate in all four phases of the development process and to be able to meaningfully contribute to the process. It was evident from the study that educators did not have the required skills for developing curriculum and training was therefore required to address this skills gap. To develop this training, Ramparsad (2001) recommended that the Province:

1)      assess what skills and knowledge teachers’ already possessed in terms of curriculum development,

2)      provide teachers with formal training on the curriculum development process during semesterized courses to address identified gaps, and

3)      ensure that the courses offered to teachers were accredited by the National Qualifications Framework.

Ramparsad also recommended that the Province invest in formal in-service training at the schools to familiarize teachers with the new curriculum in order to facilitate widespread adoption of the new curriculum. Finally, Ramparsad’s study found that teachers reported limited involvement in the evaluation phase of the curriculum development process and so special effort would be needed by the Province to engage teachers during this phase. 

Overall, I think this study was very informative and provided clear recommendations for successfully engaging teachers in the curriculum development process. The researcher touched on all necessary phases of curriculum development: design, dissemination, implementation, and evaluation. He also offered useful recommendations for each phase which I found to be very useful. However, I felt that Ramparsad placed an over emphasis on training.  While I agree, that it is essential that teachers have the knowledge and skills necessary to participate in the curriculum development process, I do not believe that training alone is sufficient to fully engage teachers throughout the process.  Given the historical context in which this curriculum was being developed – the end of apartheid and the beginning of a new democratic country – teachers should have had greater input into what information the new curriculum would contain. 

In my opinion, offering training courses to teachers on curriculum development is a top-down-approach that does not allow teachers to fully input into the design of the new curriculum.  This is what Bennis and colleagues (1969; as cited in Kelly, 2009) call a “power-coercive” strategy.   The researcher is looking at educators as deficient in the curriculum process and therefore through training their deficiencies will be addressed. In my view, a bottom-up approach would be more successful in this case. The bottom up approach would involve asking teachers as professionals to articulate what they believe should be included in the post-apartheid curriculum through a participatory approach.  This approach, along with training, would more effectively engage teachers in all aspects of curriculum development. 

References

Kelly, A. V. (2009). The Curriculum Theory and Practice (6th ed.) Southern Oaks, CA: SAGE Publication, Inc.

Ramparsad, R. (2001). A strategy for teacher involvement in curriculum development. South African Journal of Education, 21(4): 287-292.

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