The National – Thursday, December 9, 2010
In Part 4 of his series on the controversial outcomes-based education system, career educationist AARON HAYES expands on the reasons why he opposes its introduction in PNG. Hayes holds a masters degree in educational psychology from the University of Queensland and served in the standards wing of the PNG Department of Education from 1997-2002. He was also involved with the curriculum division as a HSC chemistry examiner and a member of the subject advisory committee for personal development.
QUESTION: Is outcomes-based education (OBE) a teacher-friendly system?
The home truth: No.
OBE is a millstone around the teacher’s neck.
Instead of preparing one lesson and teaching it to the whole class, teachers working in OBE systems are required to prepare different self-learning activities for different pupils with different ability levels within each class.
This is fine if you have a class of 20 students, a classroom full of computers, books, videos and a teacher’s aide or parent volunteers to help, but, here in PNG, the teacher cannot be expected to prepare more than one lesson for each class.
OBE casts a huge preparation burden on PNG teachers.
OBE also severely disadvantages those students in classrooms with untrained or lazy teachers, because the required preparation will simply not get done.
Unlike the old system, which provided teachers guide books with fairly prescriptive lesson plans that even very inexperienced or very incompetent teachers could follow, OBE expects teachers to design all their own learning activities from scratch.
This is a terribly uneconomical use of human resources.
If classroom teachers are just given a list of learning outcomes and asked to prepare self-learning activities for their students, thousands of teachers around the country are going to be awake every night designing similar programmes for similar students.
This is “re-inventing the wheel” thousands of times over.
PNG teachers are already overloaded and they do not need more work.
Did you know that teaching is the only profession in PNG where you do must do extra work at home every night without getting paid for the extra time?
Even under the old system, most PNG teachers would spend between two and four hours every night preparing lessons, setting tests, correcting student writing and doing marking without any overtime pay for this additional work.
To boot, most PNG teachers do this after-hour preparation and assessment work long-hand because they have no typewriters or laptop computers to work with.
People believe that teachers get extra holidays to compensate them for their preparation and marking time during the school term, but it is not enough to make up for the damage to health and relationships caused by lack of sleep, lack of relaxation, lack of family time and lack of social life that teachers suffer.
Unlike teachers in Australia, who drive home every afternoon and have time to themselves with their families, most PNG teachers live on or near their school grounds and are heavily involved with after hours supervision of boarding students and various community activities that the local people expect their school teachers to be involved in.
All these after-hour responsibilities are unpaid.
OBE now requires teachers to spend even MORE of their own private time on unpaid preparation and assessment.
The PNG Teachers Association should oppose this strongly.
Many teachers have already given up trying to keep up with the unrealistic preparation demands of OBE and have gone back to “chalk and talk” behind school inspectors’ backs.
The last straw that will break the teacher’s back is descriptive reporting.
Instead of percentages and A, B, C, D or E grades, OBE requires term reports for parents to comprise lengthy sentences that describe the child’s progress towards each curriculum outcome.
This is fine if every teacher has a laptop and can copy and paste, or use the mouse to click and select comments from a data bank, and then spit out the report from a printer.
But, here in PNG, most teachers are still writing reports by hand with carbon paper and it now takes teachers days and days to write descriptive reports.
High school teachers taking several subject classes are expected to write reports for up to 200 students every term and, without computer technology, it is now a huge chore to write descriptive reports.
Most PNG parents cannot understand the “gobbledegook” OBE terminology in the new assessment reports anyway.
They just want a simple letter grade to tell them how well their child is doing.
Q: Was introducing OBE our only option for improving our education system?
The home truth: No.
A better course of action to improve education in PNG would have been to beef up our previous objectives-based, teacher-centred curriculum model and strengthen our competitive assessment system.
The previous curriculum model was quite suited to PNG schools because it required a minimum of resources and was practical for teachers with large class sizes.
The old curriculum was also appropriately focused on streaming of students according to their abilities.
Academically-inclined students were streamed into extension activities and eventually into
Grades 11 and 12 and tertiary studies through competitive advancement based on examinations.
Technically-capable students were streamed into vocational and technical schools.
Students with lower learning ability and motivation were geared up for return to village life.
Here in PNG, we will never be able to send all children through to Grade 12. It is just a pipe dream.
There are not enough jobs and tertiary places for everyone who finishes Grade 12 anyway.
We need to focus on providing basic education for as many children as possible and advancing those with particular academic and technical potential through to higher levels.
The best way of doing this is through comparative assessment using objective school tests or aptitude tests.
OBE does not permit comparison of one student’s performance with the others because mastery learning principles state that student progress is supposed to be measured against the learning goals and not measured against other students.
Ranking on the class ladder is not allowed.
But, here in PNG, we need the ladder because, unlike Australia, we cannot offer every individual a Grade 12 education and we need to be able to identify the better-performing individuals for selection purposes.
Our whole society and economy is based on competition for resources and selection for limited opportunities – for further studies, for jobs, for positions of responsibility – so comparing one person’s achievement with the others is part of life here.
Our new education system is trying to undermine this.
Is it all part of a neo-colonial agenda to “Australianise” PNG through social engineering?
Or it is just a huge national scandal caused by PNG officials failing to evaluate this incoming aid project properly to make sure that it was what the country really needed?
Private consultants, engaged by aid donors to design or “scope” new aid projects, are often the same companies that are later engaged to carry out the project, so, it is not surprising that they tend to design huge projects that will run for a long time and generate big profits from the aid funding.
They know they will make more money from introducing a complex new system than simply upgrading an existing system.
This is called “over-servicing”, a term that is often used to describe doctors who perform unnecessary tests or procedures on their patients in order to charge more.
In the case of development aid, it is up to the aid recipient, in this case the PNG Education Department, to be selective in its acceptance of proposed aid projects in order to prevent over-servicing.
We need to make sure we only get what we need and not what money-hungry private aid contractors want to force upon us.
If you think that introducing OBE sounds like a case of contractor over-servicing – you might be right!