Approaches to curriculum design of the South African school curricula: a critical perspective on the curricula for Afrikaans (Home Language)

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During the past 25 years, the South African national school curricula went through changes and revisions with regard to approaches to curriculum design and methodologies. Changes in school curricula are taking place across the world to meet international and national demands, to meet social needs, and to comply with socio-political, socio-economic and technological changes. School curricula are not neutral, seeing that they develop in certain socio-political and socio-economic periods. Approaches to curriculum design contributed to the South African school curricula going through various changes, revisions and repackaging after 1994. These changes were political, symbolic, educational and socio-communal, and are reflected in the various school curricula. The question thus arises whether these changes and revisions are educationally and socially accountable, represent an improvement within the South African school system, and in particular whether they have also improved as far Afrikaans (Home Language) is concerned.

The basic approaches to curriculum design flow from mainly two ideological forms, namely reconstructivism and progressivism. The two main approaches to curriculum design are product approaches and process approaches. Product approaches entail, among other things, clear goals and authoritative prescriptive learning content. This approach to curriculum design views knowledge as given and absolute, and the teachers and learners have little to no influence when the curriculum is being determined, while process approaches to curriculum design entail, among other things, a more descriptive curriculum which comes into being in the classroom and provides teachers with more space to act as curriculators. Learning content and learning activities are developed in tandem in process approaches to curriculum design, in order for learning content to determine activities and activities to determine learning content. The South African school curricula, which therefore also implies the curricula for Afrikaans (Home Language), reflect the exchange which took place between these two overall approaches to curriculum design in the more than 25 years that have passed. The syllabi for Afrikaans, First Language (1985–1995) were characterised by a strong authoritative selection of learning content and were clearly influenced by a product approach to curriculum design.

In the political dispensation during the post-apartheid period South Africa needed a school curriculum which gave learners equal and fair education opportunities, and consequently Curriculum 2005 was developed. Curriculum 2005 was influenced in curriculum design by process approaches. This outcomes-based curriculum was in strong contrast with the previous content-based syllabi with regard to ideology, content, methodology and assessment. The assumption with Curriculum 2005 was that learners should be participants in the discovery of knowledge and that the teachers should be facilitators of learning and curriculators of learning content. The approach to curriculum design on which Curriculum 2005 is built was accepted timeously and precipitately in South Africa, a developing country, as a result of the models implemented in developed countries. The outcomes-based approach to teaching of Curriculum 2005 failed the diverse South African community and the recognition of the unsuccessful implementation thereof led to the establishment of the National Curriculum Statement (NCS) in 2002. The NCS followed a hybrid approach to curriculum design which integrated product approaches and process approaches. This was an attempt to make the South African school curriculum more user-friendly for teachers. However, teachers were still hesitant to act as curriculators. A task team appointed by die Minister of Education found that the NCS was still too general and provided unsatisfactory support to teachers.

The school curriculum which followed the NCS in 2011, the National Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS), was a return to product approaches to curriculum design, despite the ministerial task team's recommendation to follow a hybrid approach. School curricula ensuing from this are prescriptive in nature and unequivocally indicate to teachers what to do, where to begin, and when to do it. If we follow the course of the South African school curriculum's changes and revisions it is clear that after 1990 there was a shift from mainly product approaches to curriculum design (syllabi for Afrikaans, First Language, 1985–1995) at the one end of the continuum, to mainly a process approach to curriculum design (Curriculum 2005 for Language Literacy and Communication) at the other, and then with the implementation of CAPS (2011) a U-turn was made back to mainly a product approach to curriculum design.

According to curriculum experts it would have been more educationally and socially accountable if there had been a gradual shift from a traditional to a transitional to a transformational curriculum design. The South African education authorities supported "revolutionary" education changes rather than gradual "evolutionary" changes during the democratisation of South Africa, and it should be judged in that light. Consequently, the South African school curricula were changed and revised more than those of other countries. The current school curriculum, CAPS, for Afrikaans (Home Language) shows clear characteristics of product approaches to curriculum design, such as prescription, uniformity, set calendar times, examination coaching, strict regulation, and curriculum monitoring. This product approach indicates a return to the approaches to curriculum design which influenced the 1985–1995 syllabi (Afrikaans, First Language). In product approaches to curriculum design teachers are, according to theory, only technicians following curriculum prescriptions. Firstly, it can cause a decline and decrease in teachers' as well as students' creativity, imagination and innovation. Secondly, in the current South African school system the possibility exists that "deprofessionalisation" of teachers might take place. The ideal is rather for teachers to interpret, reinterpret, transform, adapt, add to and remove from the school curriculum, and to provide learners with learning experiences which are significant within a certain timeframe.

According to researchers, product approaches to curriculum design do not meet the demands of the 21st century, seeing that the modern information-orientated world needs a curriculum which will guide learners to unlock and evaluate fast-changing knowledge. Educational and social accountability requires critical, creative and problem-solving thought, imagination and innovation. The first question to arise is whether the current approach to curriculum design provides adequate opportunities to do so, and the second question is whether CAPS (Home Language) will meet the requirements stated above. The conclusion can be made that CAPS (Home Language) can be seen as a double-edged sword: on the one hand it is appropriate and useful for the inexperienced and incapable teacher who chooses to use a prescriptive approach to know exactly what to teach when. But on the other hand, CAPS (Home Language) restrains the experienced and capable teacher who chooses curriculum negotiation and who wants to challenge their teaching adequacy in the interest of socio-communal and educational accountability.

Keywords: Afrikaans (Home Language); curriculum; curriculum change; curriculum design; educational accountability; process approach; product approach; teaching

Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans: Kurrikulumontwerpbenaderings van Suid-Afrikaanse skoolkurrikula: ’n kritiese perspektief op die kurrikula vir Afrikaans (Huistaal)

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