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Covid-19 has given us a unique opportunity to completel...

Defend Truth

Opinionista

Covid-19 has given us a unique opportunity to completely change our education system

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Michael Workman is a retired educator who was most recently principal of St John’s Preparatory School and before that, principal of Carmel Primary. He has an M.Ed (Curriculum Theory, Planning, Development and Contemporary Issues in Curriculum Evaluation) from the former University of Natal.

It is essential that we toss the present curriculum out the window. Let’s set our sights on a new and meaningful curriculum that caters for the 4IR for all those who live in South Africa.

The only good thing about Covid-19 is that for the first time in a long while it could initiate educational change. I say “could” because no doubt there will be schools that refuse to change or don’t even know why the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is one good reason why change is so necessary. Covid-19 has given all stakeholders time to reflect and question both education and the curriculum and how well they are serving the state.

In “pre-Covid” or “normal-normal” circumstances, change was difficult to implement, given that people were locked into different paradigms depending on their values, principles and what matters most to them. Paradigms give many people a frame of reference, a comfort zone, that usually takes generations to break down because siblings never question rituals and mores — after all, parents know best! However, at some time these customs will be questioned, and when this happens chaos is created and paradigms get shifted making way for authentic change and new ideas.

For the most part, Covid-19 has been so disruptive and chaotic that it has helped to shift a worldwide paradigm change. In a way, this is the best and the worst thing that could have happened, not only in South Africa, but on a global level as well. The worst is all the deaths and suffering it has caused. It has, however, given South Africa a window of hope for education.

It is a fact that out of many crises come opportunities. Wars have produced massive growth in technology. Diseases have given scientists opportunities to create vaccines. Nelson Mandela once said, “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. In a way, it’s like taking advantage of the enemy. Suffice to say, education could be the weapon that ultimately will destroy Covid-19.  

Schools are about education, they are places where children meet and socialise, take part in sport and compete against one another. They enjoy the freedom to express themselves through art, music and drama. They question or discuss opinions with their teachers in an enriched learning milieu.

Covid-19 has given parents opportunities to realise schools are not the only places where children can be educated in terms of academics. Flip and blended learning teaching can be used very effectively to educate. Zoom and tele-education have given a whole new meaning to education. For the first time, parents have a choice in their child’s future.

There are many suggestions emerging regarding schooling, such as homeschooling, smaller schools, and different types of schools offering a good variety of education. These are all new schooling concepts. Parents and pupils now have a smorgasbord of different educational environments to select from. However, my advice to most parents is, don’t jump too early. Do your homework first. It is not so much education that matters most, but the curriculum and how passionate the teachers are.

Independent and “Model C” schools should be able to survive this ongoing crisis because of their strong community support. Be that as it may, there is still plenty of work involved in crafting a new curriculum because no independent or state school that I’m aware of has produced an exciting curriculum that responds to the needs of the 4IR. For the most part, curriculum change is more about adding on, not “taking out” of an already bloated timetable.

The 4IR is already here and parents need to know that if educators ignore this any longer they will do a huge injustice to all our children. This will ultimately require a paradigm shift. Piaget, Vygotsky and Dewey argued that children under 12 couldn’t think abstractly. If this is true, which I believe it is, why then do primary schools continue to teach disciplines — for example, why are history and geography taught in the same way?

The main focus at primary school level must revolve around teaching the basics of numeracy and literacy well. In this way, it is further postulated that children need many different sets of skills in the 4IR. STREAM (science, technology, reading, engineering, arts, and mathematics) must be integrated into the curriculum; time must be more flexible and continually focus on the present and the future. Universities must work more closely with all schools, ongoing evaluation in the form of action research will help drive and develop this curriculum development initiative.

If you have decided that you are going to select a different type of school for your child then it is imperative that considerable thought is given to the curriculum that is offered at this new institution, whether it be homeschooling, streaming, or Zoom-based teaching. A crucial factor to consider is the quality of education — teachers are the ones who make the difference.

To this end, they should be looked after. The last thing we need is the top teachers leaving the profession. Homeschooling will require competent, well-qualified teachers or capable parents who will work with no conflict, for many hours each day. If you do not have the patience or cannot be this type of parent, do not consider this option. Another school option could be technology, using flip and blended learning and using different teaching strategies. Children, unless they have some structure or someone working with them, become bored very quickly.

An issue that always makes me feel distinctly uncomfortable is that while the middle class may have a choice in schooling for their child, what will happen to those who are less fortunate? Are the actions taken to address their issues going to be taken seriously or as usual, further polarise the rich from the poor? Statistics clearly reveal that crime rates are climbing every day. This has a knock-on effect. And so the cycle continues. No education, no jobs, poverty, crime, no education…

There are, however, solutions beginning to emerge through this chaos. Most independent schools have the facilities to stream to these poorly resourced schools. Teachers who are competent with technology could pair with teachers who are particularly good at teaching the core subjects.

It is essential that we toss the present curriculum out the window. Let’s set our sights on a new and meaningful curriculum that caters for the 4IR for all those who live in South Africa. Hopefully, the Department of Education has an eye on the ball and takes full advantage of this opportunity. Issues such as the digital divide and the 4IR are concepts that are absolutely critical for equity, equality and social justice.

STREAM would certainly give a solid framework upon which this 21st-century curriculum should be developed. Relationships must be built between communities, and all stakeholders should be involved in ensuring educational ownership. Obviously, this is not a blueprint for educational change, but rather a starting point to discuss ideas and possibilities about the purpose and nature of schooling. DM

Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c), it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address Covid-19. We are, therefore, disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information we should know about, please email [email protected]

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"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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