Making sense of OBE

Stanley Letsoko

Stanley Letsoko

There is a lack of understanding of the basic principles and philosophies behind the Revised National Curriculum Statements (RNCS).

Most of the questions being asked by ordinary people revolve around outcomes-based education (OBE). OBE is an educational philosophy, an attempt to create understanding or a sense of meaning around some of the challenges that we face in life.

It is organised around several basic beliefs and principles, each emphasising the idea that all students are capable of learning and of success.

The opposite of this is, of course, one of the main things that OBE profusely contests, the idea that some students not only lack capability but that they are actually incorrigible.

In South Africa OBE has been synonymous with the works of William Spady, the renowned academic and scholar who believes that every human being has a role to play in society.

Therefore, the primary purpose of education is to prepare young people for their future roles in society, beyond the their formal education.

In 1994, Spady wrote: "Outcomes-based education means clearly focusing and organising everything in an educational system around what is essential for all students to be able to do successfully at the end of their learning experiences."

To Spady, this means "starting with a clear picture of what is important for all students to be able to do, then organising curriculum, instruction and assessment to make sure this learning ultimately happens".

This is actually some of the principles of OBE, which highlight that learning should underlie a set of specific outcomes, aims or objectives to be achieved.

To most people, the only way of making sense of OBE is by comparing and contrasting it with apartheid or so-called bantu education.

The underlying philosophy of apartheid education was that it was about "empowering" and "preparing" students for the envisaged role that they were to play in society.

For blacks and marginalised groups, such "preparedness" was aimed at keeping them in subservience, as a permanent under-class. In education, once you have established an educational philosophy, which is nothing but a set of guiding principles, what should then follow is the road map which specifically defines how you are going to achieve your goals.

So, while both OBE and apartheid education have similar claims about their aim of preparing and empowering students for their future role in society, the differences is in their methods on how to achieve the objective they set out to achieve.

Apartheid education relied heavily on a technique called rote learning, or learning by repetition, which is a technique that avoids understanding of a subject and focuses on memorisation.

One of the fundamental differences between OBE and bantu education is that the lattercreated distinctions between those students who were regarded as capable and those who are not capable, in relation to success and failure.

In OBE, everyone is capable of learning and success - no one is incorrigible. Unlike apartheid education, OBE was initially organised around four basic principles that came to be known as "clarity of focus", "designing down", "high expectations" and "expanded opportunity".

The emphasis is on the outcomes and these are explained to students, and learning is geared towards the achievement of these set of outcomes, which makes it easy to measure students against the outcomes.

OBE does not prescribe nor describe the method for reaching the specific outcome, but leaves that entirely up to the teacher, who is rather a facilitator.

Two methods of assessment have been linked to the discourse around OBE versus bantu or apartheid education, summative and formative methods of assessment.

Summative assessment is said to be the formal testing of what has been learned in order to produce marks or grades which may be used for reports of various types. Those who are familiar with apartheid education will remember that this was one of the most enduring forms of assessment under apartheid, learning and memorising content and then regurgitating it at the end of the learning experience.

Formative assessment is designed to give students feedback on their progress towards the development of knowledge, understanding, skills and attitudes rather than assessment for marks or grades which are not given to students.

While summative assessment is usually at the end of the learning process, formative assessment, which is largely associated with OBE, is continuous and not an end of the year exam.

nThe writer is director of Strategic Workplace Diversity management at WBS