Central province children deserve a better deal

Normal, Weekender

AT any one time during the course of school reform in Central province, an illusion of debate often obscures a surprising consensus on the “magic bullet” of the decade-be it school centralization or OBE, or Slip program or computerizing the classrooms-that will solve education problems. Unfortunately, these magic bullets have always misfired.
But instead of changing their weapon, policy-makers simply put another round in the chamber, foolishly believing that the newest fad will succeed despite the failures of its predecessors.
Our society is changing into a knowledge and information society and it is more apparent than ever that we need to make changes to better accommodate the diverse needs of our communities.
With these changes, we will face new opportunities and new challenges in all dimensions and aspects of our lives.
Everywhere in our communities, we are starting to loose a sense of urgency for action, and we do not fully understand how and why our lives are being reshaped.
This is a dangerous situation emerging across all levels of government – not just for a systems drift, but because rapid and significant institutional, social, cultural and economic change without a roadmap, without explanation leaves us open to demagogic answers, simple answers, simple blame.
Our children need a better deal and we must act now to make changes to suit the needs of each and every central province child equally in order to maximize his or her learning experience and in turn, better prepare him or her for the world.
Currently, our educational reforms seem to have hit a snag with the push for OBE which has not worked in other countries.
It seems that we are on the back foot, responding to critical OBE issues we cannot answer properly, or introducing SLIP programs or curriculum reform and so forth by reorganizing the existing systems and materials to accommodate this un-workable OBE policy. We are dealing with the triple  ‘message system’ of curriculum, instruction and assessment in bits, failing to deal with instruction at all, and allowing the OBE agenda to drag us in a particular direction.
If we are not able to holistically and critically review these three systems curriculum; pedagogy and the assessment framework than we are not addressing the issues effectively. Therefore the system is going to be misaligned or will be pulling in different directions, thus cooking up a recipe for trouble.
Over the past three years, I have been talking to teachers, parents, students and academics, about the general state of ailing schools and education system in Central province. Most have responded by saying that teachers, educators, administrators in the field have a real case of ‘change fatigue’ – that they had been quality assured, curriculum reformed, OBE drilled, SLIP SLOP programmed to the point where they were not listening.
But as importantly, having visited dozens of schools in the National Capital District and Central province delivering MES- Professional Development Programs for teachers, principals, and head teachers, I feel that there is literally no passion or belief in the OBE system – that most of the parents and teachers do not know where the OBE system was going, what OBE actually stood for, and what to believe in.
Let me provide some brief back ground information of OBE and my experience. I spent over ten years teaching in Queensland schools. In Australia for instance, a good deal of criticism about Australia’s adoption of OBE has been directed at the national curriculum.
Firstly, they argue that OBE lacks academic rigour and the fear that the national statements and profiles represented a fall in standards (groups such as the Australian Institute of Physics, the Royal Australian Chemical Institute and Australian Mathematical Science Council argued that the national curriculum represented a dumbed down approach to standards).
Secondly, it lacks a strong, clearly articulated educational justification for the introduction of OBE or research evidence proving the success or worth of the new approach to curriculum development. In particular, there appeared little concrete evidence, either in Australia or the US, demonstrating that OBE had been successfully implemented on such a large scale.
Thirdly, a concern that the development of the national statements and profiles had adopted a ‘top-down’ approach to curriculum development that marginalised the interests and needs of teachers and schools.
In England, the first edition of the National Curriculum was widely criticized after the adoption of OBE. In particular, teachers attacked it as unwieldy and cumbersome and, especially at the primary level, argued that it was impossible to implement in a balanced and effective way. In relation to the implementation of OBE in Ontario, Canada there is also evidence that teachers found the process frustrating and difficult.
The Americans have criticized OBE for advancing curriculum descriptors that were often vague, ambiguous, difficult to measure and low in academic content. They have argued that, the once bright promise of subject area standards (OBE), born from a desire to improve the rigor and effectiveness of American education, has faded under a wide array of criticisms, and the movement itself is bogged down under its own weight. Furthermore, it should be pointed’ out that OBE as a reform movement was dead by 1995. There has been virtually no research or reference to it in the US educational literature since then.
A South African secondary school principal, Dr Malcolm Venter (2000), in a paper presented at the Australian Principals Associations Professional Development Council (apapdc) Conference 2000, presented a range of OBE criticisms that can be summarized as follows.
* Weakening the idea of striving for success by eliminating the concept of failure
* Unduly emphasizing criterion referenced assessment to the detriment of norm referenced assessment
* Unfairly increasing the workload on teachers by imposing an individual-based, diagnostic assessment regime
* Reducing the emphasis on subject knowledge in preference to skills and process
* Being couched in education jargon that disempowers and alienates classroom teachers
Such have been the weight of all these concerns raised by these countries; no wonder teachers in Papua New Guinea are having great difficulties in trying to understand the concept of OBE, let alone try and teach and implement it.
I have spoken to many teachers in PNG and they too have expressed the same sentiments; however, no one is game enough to speak out in fear of a backlash. It seems as though, PNG is a dumping ground for policies that have not worked elsewhere.


* Next week: How Central province schools have been continuously out performed academically by their counterparts in other provinces.


Dr. Gewa Au is an Education & Training Consultant and has a keen interest in the field of teaching and learning. His expertise is in designing and developing creative teaching strategies to promote thinking and learning in the classroom. Email Dr. Gewa Au at [email protected] and air your views