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Steaming (and streaming) ahead in the brave new world o...

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Opinionista

Steaming (and streaming) ahead in the brave new world of 4IR education

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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.

Stem education has enormous benefits, but we must consider adding arts to create Steam – and research, to create Stream.

Most schools by now should be fully aware of the acronym Stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). However, researcher Georgette Yakman in 2006 realised the benefit of adding the arts to this, thus creating Steam. 

This gives more balance to an otherwise one-sided, highly technical curriculum. The innovation also opened the door to more hermeneutic processes, which I believe are indispensable in a new digital world that gives the perception that values are not necessary.

When correctly applied, Steam works. Evidence of this can be found in countries such as India. Many graduates have benefitted from what it offers – including children from the poorest of poor communities. 

Since the 2000s, India has made extraordinary progress in reducing absolute poverty. Between 2011 and 2015, more than 90 million people were lifted out of extreme poverty (in 2020, India had a total population of 1.38 billion).

However, the Covid-19 pandemic has had the same effect on India as the rest of the world, leaving a trail of destruction as it mutated itself around the globe, taking lives and destroying economies. India was no exception – its economy contracting by 7.3%. In total, 525,000 people lost their lives.

There is no doubt Steam is an extraordinary programme which has the innate potential to redress issues of equity and equality in South Africa. 

Provided the following “big four” fundamentals are applied rigorously in developing a new national curriculum for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), it should be a much easier ride this time around – after the debacle of Outcomes-Based Education (OBE) – especially if all schools are given plenty of support and guidance from the government and education department.

The most important of all fundamentals in developing and designing a new curriculum, is context.

Despairingly, OBE made it very clear that a “model” from another country cannot just be dumped into a totally different environment and, like magic, be expected to produce outstanding results – especially considering that OBE was imported from a First World country, Australia.

Context touches every aspect of the curriculum, such as teaching and learning, languages, cultures, values, politics, infrastructures, politics, evaluation, the economy, financial constraints and many other relevant matters. To this end, think context first, before attempting to introduce change of any sort.

A second crucial element is change itself. This factor is often taken for granted.

However, change is not about dabbling with a curriculum by trimming certain aspects in hopes that it will bring about some improvements. 

Authentic change means a complete paradigm shift in terms of values. Anyone who has worked in a school will be aware that change is difficult to achieve and highly complex in nature.

The third ingredient is sustainability. What we don’t want is a fly-by-night curriculum.

The curriculum should be dynamic and change when necessary. In this way, it will remain relevant to the real world. The only way to achieve this is to implement an ongoing internal and external evaluation that will respond to weaknesses and make changes immediately. 

Action research would be best suited for Steam because, by its very nature, it empowers school communities.

The final element is implementation. Often well-planned ideas don’t work when they are put into practice.

There are many reasons for this, the most pertinent ones being context and a lack of understanding of the educational environment. Notwithstanding, somewhere down the line, teachers will have to take on the responsibility of implementation. 

To this end, it is extremely important that they are well educated in all aspects of the new curriculum, and furthermore have been given the opportunity to assist with its development.

The reality is that 4IR is already with us. No longer will it be possible to carry on teaching as schools have been doing for 100 years. Educational change is now mandatory.

I am convinced that Steam is the way to go, provided the “big four” are taken into account and every conceivable nuance is carefully identified and changes made accordingly.

The only two criticisms I have with regard to Steam is that it lacks a research component, and that there is little mention of values – the most important element in a school curriculum, especially in a technocratic world.

Research is possibly the best skill a child can learn for the new world of work. It is empowering and can be used very effectively as an integration tool. Research involves higher order skills such as literature reviews, formulating a hypothesis and testing it through well-structured methodologies.

Children would also be able to analyse findings, solve problems and use their skills to solve real-life problems such as bullying. They would learn about quantitative and qualitative data. 

Therefore, I advocate that research should hold a very valuable place in Steam – making it Stream (science, technology, research, English, art, maths).

I have changed the letter “E” from Engineering to English in terms of context, as South Africa has one of the lowest “reading for meaning” ratings in the world. Engineering can easily be covered in the disciplines of science and technology.

Finally, values are going to be even more crucial in a world where technology is growing at an exponential rate, changing our lives daily. Most people seem to be really excited about these changes because they make our lives so much easier.

Be that as it may, there is also a downside to technology. 

This is why values are essential in this new world, inasmuch as values cannot be taught but are imbued from good role models. To this end, it is imperative that teachers and parents work together – they should be the real role models that, in a child’s mind, matter most. DM

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