OBE a good idea that failed in SA

Nthabisang Moreosele

Nthabisang Moreosele

Outcomes based education is a good idea but it hasn't worked in South Africa and in many other countries.

The policy has succeeded only in China and Japan, where there is a rigid school system, disciplined pupils and enough resources for all pupils.

South Africa adopted OBE in 1997 as an alternative to apartheid education.

Mamphele Ramphela, former vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town, recently said that Bantu education had been better than OBE.

She said OBE should be trashed since other countries were also rejecting it.

But Education Minister Naledi Pandor said Bantu education was riddled with inaccuracies and distortions and discouraged blacks from learning the sciences.

Unfortunately, OBE was adopted without any adjustments to make it suited to local conditions, so it failed.

The three basic foundations of education - reading, writing and arithmetic - have largely fallen by the wayside.

"OBE is an excellent system that needs commitment," said Ismail Lockhat, principal of Fordsburg Primary School in Johannesburg.

"But our classes are too big. Forty learners and up is too big a number for any teacher in OBE."

Lockhat said ill-discipline, large groups of pupils and a lack of resources caused OBE to fail in the inner cities of the United Kingdom, Canada and the US.

It has left those countries with a high level of illiteracy.

South Africa was ranked the lowest in a literacy study of 40 countries in 2006.

He said OBE was supposed to develop skills using technology, but technology was nonexistent in most public schools.

He said another reason why OBE was not working in South Africa was because there was resistance to change.

Many teachers were still not ready for OBE.

"Today's parents are mainly from the 76 generation," Lockhat said. "They received a sketchy education. OBE is a triangle requiring input from the teacher, learner and the parents.

"But parents cannot guide their children because the children 'know' more than they do. They are embarrassed about the gaps in their education.

"The children have no interest in school, lack discipline and should break away from the idea that everybody owes us."

The president of teachers union Naptosa, Ezra Ramasehla, said education was in crisis.

He said "the decision to adopt an OBE model for a country in which most teachers do not have the requisite experience and skills to effectively implement the curriculum" was the reason for the crisis.

He said the OBE policy had to be carefully re-evaluated.

"Claims were made that C2005 was a curriculum so 'bold and revolutionary in its magnitude and conception', that it would 'overturn the legacy of apartheid and catapult South Africa into the 21st century'," Ramasehla said.

"But these claims have not been realised. Results of systemic evaluations, TIMSS reports and the more recent PIRLS 2006 study reveal that few of South Africa's best learners rank among the top achievers internationally, while the majority are rated among the world's worst performers.

"So a largely ineffective one-size-fits-all approach was adopted in the training of teachers, with no recognition of the contexts and histories of teachers.

"The implementation of the new curriculum, rather than "overturning the legacy of apartheid" has instead continued to replicate our societies' inequalities."

Ramasehla said the time had come for the Department of Education to review the effect that OBE has had on the country's education system.

"If the curriculum is replaced and none of the other problems are addressed, the circumstances will remain as they are," he said.