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It’s a brave new world out there — we need a brave new education curriculum to prepare for the 4IR

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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.

Societies are changing rapidly and profoundly. If the antiquated excuse for a curriculum that exists in our schools is not demolished, education will no longer be valid or credible.

Now more than ever is the time for the introduction of a new educational plan for South Africa. A plan that will bring about meaningful change to the lives of all citizens and at the same time actively address the issues of equity and equality.

I say “now” because all over the world educators have come to realise that with Covid-19 having mutated itself into less of a threat, an opportunity to get going with formulating a new Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) curriculum has been created.

It is contended that as long as chaos and violence exist within poorer communities, social justice will remain a pipe dream. Until communities start to prioritise education, quality teachers, no matter how well paid or qualified, would rather live and work in safer environments. It is conjectured that before a new forward-thinking curriculum can be introduced into schooling, certain contextual measures must be established.

These include safety and security, infrastructure, and above all a caring community. If ubuntu — helping one another — could be given a top priority in the community and reintroduced into the curriculum of all schools, it has the innate potential of enhancing everyone’s lives.

Ubuntu develops the characters of individuals, families and communities to promote teamwork. These wonderful values seem somehow to have fallen off the wagon on the journey to democracy.

It is sad to see ubuntu values eroded to such an extent that some communities have resorted to looting and violence to subsist. The recent murder of deputy principal Thembisile Ngendane at Phomolong High School, who was shot dead gang-style, cannot be ignored and I praise all those students who marched in protest against these murderers who have no regard for human life. My sincere condolences go to her family.

The South African government states that the upper-bound poverty line (UBPL) indicates an income of R1,183 per month. Covid-19 has impacted on the sick and unhealthy. They have no transport or money to help themselves, thus further separating the “haves” from the “have nots”.

To elaborate further, it is ironic that our democracy is being undermined by non-caring communities and a lack of clear and strong leadership. Although we keep espousing that we live in a democratic state, I am yet to be convinced. An authentic democracy should give every citizen the opportunity to actively participate. How then can South Africa call itself a democratic country when the vast majority of our people are uneducated and poverty-stricken?

As for the protection of their rights, they have none. This aspect is missing, especially in education, where through sheer incompetency, it takes over two years to get a toilet fitted in a school.

South Africa can boast the top 10% of the population who attended former Model C or independent schools which achieved incredible matric results — some of them achieving an over 90% average. However, matric results should only be one measure of a child’s performance.

Be that as it may, will this help the exponential downward trend of 37% unemployment? Are 10% of the children who passed their exams with flying colours going to lift the standards of education for those children who have nothing? Does a matric exam help to depolarise the surmounting problem of equity and equality?

The answer to each of these questions is clearly no. Whatever action is taken to assist education — good or bad — only pushes the poorer back and the wealthy forward.

There is no doubt violence is impacting community values. After all, for these children, it has become a way of life. Learning is reinforced every day by what they see and hear. What could be more real for them than this? Early education, it has been claimed, is fundamental in the first six years of a child’s development. If this is the case, then there is no hope.

Government needs an urgent wake-up call. What is required is a different type of education, one that is relatively easy to implement and is contextual to community needs — new solutions in a hastily changing world. 

Societies are changing rapidly and profoundly. I firmly believe that if the antiquated excuse for a curriculum that exists in our schools is not demolished, education will no longer be valid or credible. Education will become moribund. This is a fact. What is urgently required is a government that will focus on a new 4IR curriculum, support change and deal with malfunctioning communities.

Since universities set the standards required, they must change first and start to look at different types of degrees and diplomas. They need to assess future requirements and plan accordingly. This should prevent too many students from graduating in the same field. There needs to be an advocacy programme for vocational subjects starting with schools and working upwards from early childhood (by far the most important group) to Grade 12.

Many schools are going to make the same mistake — building on past structures and just adding new subjects to an already congested timetable. Thinking has to change because education has to change.

John Dewey, one of my favourite sources of reference said, “if we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.’’ The nature of schooling has to change. It has to be dynamic but at the same time sustainable. It has to be fun but at the same time serious. It has to cover new skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving and entrepreneurial skills.

There are so many exciting and creative elements to consider in developing a new innovative curriculum, but without community support, quality and equity will disappear altogether. This is a fact in an inequitable democratic state. DM

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