We need a school curriculum that can help address the inequalities in our education system and also equip learners with the knowledge and skills they need for the 21st century.
This was one of the viewpoints of Prof Michael le Cordeur, Chair of the Department of Curriculum Studies in the Faculty of Education at Stellenbosch University, in a recent Stellenbosch Forum lecture. This lecture, the third in the series for 2022, was themed “Bridging the gap from an unequal past to a future of equal opportunities: in search of an effective curriculum for South Africa". Le Cordeur is also the Vice-Dean for Learning and Teaching in the Faculty of Education.
The Stellenbosch Forum lecture series was started in 1990 and provides regular opportunities to SU staff and students as well as members of the public to learn more about the world-class research conducted at the University. Presented in an accessible and understandable way, these lectures offer both academics and non-academics a platform for critical debate across disciplinary boundaries.
In his speech, Le Cordeur said the current National Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) focuses so much on the acquisition of knowledge that the happiness of learners is neglected. It also fails to instil a good value system in our learners, he added.
According to Le Cordeur, the CAPS curriculum is too content-heavy which resulted in many challenges, especially a lack of comprehension.
“We can do without the unnecessary detail because we must focus more on literacy and numeracy.
“The CAPS curriculum is too prescriptive and learners are over-assessed. If you have too many assessments, there is not enough time to master the knowledge. Textbooks are not compatible with the curriculum and learners struggle to identify with the themes in the textbooks."
Le Cordeur said that before we think about a new curriculum, we should first look at the skills that our learners need.
“Learners must be taught about emotional intelligence, critical thinking, leadership and entrepreneurship, moral values, environmental studies, renewable energy and agriculture. We must focus on apprenticeship and pay more attention to pupils with learning difficulties. Online teaching must also become part of the curriculum.
“The fact of the matter is that in 75% of our schools the quality of education is not so that it would open doors for any kind of work, let alone to any kind of tertiary education."
He added we should not neglect the well-being of teachers who work tirelessly to complete the curriculum.
“We must reduce the overwhelming administrative work of teachers. Many teachers fell ill, many need trauma counselling, and many are suffering from burn-out. Teacher absenteeism is reaching an all-time high. We need to appoint experienced teachers who can help to revise the CAPS curriculum."
Le Cordeur concluded that the CAPS curriculum can only work in schools where there are trained teachers with small classes and that have libraries.