The National, Monday August 11th, 2014
By Dr Musawe Sinebare
There has been much criticism in the public domain in the last three years about the impact of Outcomes-Based Education (OBE) or Outcomes-Based Curriculum (OBC), as some call it in Papua New Guinea. The print media in PNG has seen wide ranging arguments against OBE or OBC and the devastation it has left after its wake, like a major tsunami, with tidal waves reaching every corner of the country and leaving nothing but destruction in the education of the children.
A generation of students has been affected by the perceived destruction from the OBE tsunami.
The O’Neill-Namah government went to the 2012 General Election with a campaign platform to abolish OBE, among other social and economic policy, including the free education policy.
The 2012 election campaign policy of the People’s National Congress (PNC) party struck a common cord with the overwhelming majority of people throughout the country who had to struggle over the years to pay huge amount of school fees and decided to give the mandate to govern the country to the PNC.
The PNC secured the right to form the government with the return of the highest number of Parliamentary seats won by any party.
In fulfilment of the election promise the O’Neill-Dion Government established a task force to review the OBE system and, among others, directed the Department of Education to establish a mechanism to abolish the OBE gradually and correspondingly phase in the Objectives-Based Education (OBE) or for simplicity and convenience purposes called Standards-Based Education (SBE) or some call it Standards-Based Curriculum (SBC).
The process has begun with the establishment of an SBE secretariat to develop, plan, manage, and oversee the phased introduction of SBE and corresponding exit of OBE.
The secretariat is in the process of recruiting the personnel required to drive the government’s policy of abolishing the OBE while phasing in SBE.
In the interest of public information this commentary intends to highlight the critical aspects of the OBE and SBE system, which is the core reason for the supposedly poor performance of the students who came out of the OBE system according to this writer.
There could be many other reasons why parents think that their children are denied quality education given that many children could not speak, read or even write competently in English.
A curriculum is a term used to define a body of knowledge considered valuable and expressed in broad statement of intent. The identified body of knowledge is to be taught or disseminated to the students at different levels (chronological or mental age). This broad body of knowledge is broken down into smaller subsets or particular group known as disciplines or subjects. These subjects (English, Mathematics, Science, Social Science, etc) are further broken down into respective topics. The topics are broken down into individual lessons to be taught over a set period of time.
For a society to impart a body of knowledge that embodies the society’s value, which is considered worthy of transmission to the young to continue to carry on the society’s identity, must define a clear statement of what it intends to impart to the younger generation.
As a nation, PNG must revise its National Curriculum Statement (NCS). The NCS specifies in very broad terms the body of knowledge it intends to impart to the young who pass through the different layers or levels such as mental and chronological ages of students through the national education system by progressing from one grade to the other until they complete the required programme of education intended (planned) for the young.
The NCS is broken down into different subject disciplines (English, Mathematics, Science, etc) for different age groups (or grades) that could be taught in the four school terms of roughly 10 to 12 weeks in a term.
The NCS should state how many hours/minutes of formal instructions for each grade and each subject per term or per year.
The different school subjects are broken down further into topics or sub-topics according to the time allocated for each Grade. The full complement of the Curriculum intent is spread over say 12 years (Grades 1 to 12). In essence, the NCS could be likened to an ‘artist’s impression’ of a physical structure after it is completed. The NCS could be likened to the architectural drawing which gives precise measurements of every component from start to finish. Once the NCS is formulated and agreed, the subject specialist provides the overview of the scope of the curriculum across the 12 or 13 years of basic education.
The syllabus breaks down the NCS into what aspects (e.g. subjects) is to be taught, the depth of the subject to be taught (topics), and when it is to be taught (daily or weekly plan) in the course of the year.
It is at the teacher’s discretion and ingenuity to determine the dosage of the content material to be delivered to students every lesson.
Teacher as a knowledge
A teacher is the disseminator or transmitter of the body of knowledge acceptable to the society regardless of whether it is in the formal education or in the informal education environment.
A teacher in a formal school system is tasked to repackage (prepare, plan and deliver) the body of knowledge (curriculum content) into smaller digestible or bite sizes for easy consumption by students in any one single teaching episode (period in minutes in a lesson).
While the formally approved curriculum is there, the manner in which the lesson is delivered (teaching methodology employed) to transfer that particular knowledge is very critical. The teacher, as a disseminator or transmitter of knowledge, has sole responsibility and authority by virtue of his teaching qualification picks and chooses what aspects of the agreed curriculum or body of knowledge should be disseminated (taught or delivered).
Literally, the teacher has that authority to decide what to teach, when to teach, how much to teach, what standard to teach at, what resource materials to use, and how to teach. The teacher then translates what is stated in the syllabus into yearly plans, termly plans, weekly plans and, of course, daily lesson plans. No wonder teachers tell us that they are overworked.
The teacher states what must be taught in a single lesson normally of 40-minute duration in high school but varies from subject to subject in primary school.
This is why we have Standard Officers (or inspectors) who must visit schools regularly to supervise (inspect) teacher teaching in the classroom to monitor and ensure that the approved curriculum is taught and taught properly at an appropriate level over the school year.
Let us say that funding for the Standards Officers in the provinces and districts are diverted to another area, you can be rest assured that quality teaching and learning (quality control mechanism) is removed. This is not to say that all teachers are neglecting their professional responsibilities to the child to deliver quality education. Supervision is crucial in any project to ensure that the approved scope of works is delivered. Similarly, supervision in the teaching ‘project’ must not be tampered with as it impacts on the delivery of quality education programmes.
Teacher filters knowledge
Another analogy to further clarify the role of a teacher with regard to transmitting the approved curriculum is similar to a humble ‘funnel’.
A teacher simply acts like a ‘funnel’ through which the official curriculum is filtered by the teacher as best as he or she can in the classroom pedagogical processes (teaching and learning) and activities prepared by the teacher for the students. The teacher through the ‘funnel’ or filtration process of teaching and learning (classroom pedagogic process) can transfer or transmit only so much according to his own intellectual ability and the students own intellectual capacity to absorb the content taught.
The funnel analogy filters just a small portion of the official curriculum and delivered during a teaching and learning episode.
Gradually, each episode is a layer of a building block on which the next lesson is taught and incrementally the NCS objectives are to be achieved.