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A bleak future awaits our children if education continu...

Maverick Citizen


A bleak future awaits our children if education continues to focus on the past and ignore the future


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.

Technology is developing at such an exponential rate that literally one innovation will replace another before anyone blinks. The world is a vastly different place from yesterday and education needs to be reinvented.

I cannot agree more with what Prof Michael le Cordeur had to say about the South African curriculum and how it will have to be radically changed to ensure that our children thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

Read in Daily Maverick: “We need a curriculum overhaul to equip young people for the workplace of the future

He believes that if we do not react immediately to the crises in education, then education will be doomed and will implode. 

The whole curriculum is teetering on a knife-edge. South Africa has many issues that have to be sorted out first, before any forward-thinking curriculum can become even a glimmer of hope.

To produce a curriculum that will empower children and communities — and at the same time redress the continuous battle against equity and equality and extreme poverty — is an enormous task. Added to this list are  corruption, deep-seated racial issues, politics — which always get in the way of progress — infrastructures and gender-based violence, just for starters.

Regrettably, many people look to private education to set their goals — all this will do is further colonise an extremely outdated curriculum.

The last time I mentioned indigenous education instead of the French Revolution or World War I, I was nearly drop-kicked by a few knowledgeable commentators who seemed to miss the context of my message — which clearly stated that we need to know where we are going before we initiate any changes to the curriculum.

New disciplines

However, if a truly South African education is going to address the needs of all South Africans, it must integrate new disciplines into a brand-new way of seeing things.

I use the private schools as an example because the education offered in these schools is still governed by old methods such as timetables and bells, all of which would fit in snugly with a 19th-century school. 

High school teachers’ hands are bound, as they are also victims of the dreaded matric exams which seem to control the entire education system from Grade 1 to Grade 12. Furthermore, the curriculum is totally restricted by a syllabus. It is unfortunate that these results are used as a determinant to measure educational progress in South Africa. 

The Revised National Curriculum Statement (RNCS) that goes hand in hand with the Curriculum Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) is still being used in most schools (mainly model C and independents). Outcomes are used to assess children’s progress, even though RNCS should have been annihilated more than 25 years ago, along with CAPS.

There is a huge discrepancy between what is taught and how it is learnt and assessed. The RNCS and CAPS were the only survivors from what was left over from Outcomes Based Education. This is due to the fact that many teachers in the vast majority of schools are anti-change.

There is little doubt that educational change will have to be mandatory, because teachers will always hang on to what they believe to be correct. No matter how old, the adages still apply — “that would not happen in my day” or “if it isn’t broken don’t fix it”. This is why the curriculum has become moribund.

The bad news is that, since our democracy in 1994, valuable time has been lost. There is no good news. I believe tomorrow may be too late for any form of transition to the 4IR.

Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations


Due to technology, the world is a vastly different place from yesterday. Education needs to be reinvented so that it appeals to children, and so that teachers can begin to see the merit in a relevant curriculum.

For the most part, some disciplines have to be replaced by crucial skills such as critical thinking and entrepreneurial skills. Creativity needs to be given a much bigger place in the curriculum, along with maths, English and science (including engineering). There has to be a focus on research, which is also an excellent way to combine these new skills.

It is contended very strongly that adding skills to an already bloated timetable is definitely a “no go”. Rather, what is required is a creative and relevant curriculum that responds in a positive way to societal needs. It must be dynamic and flexible and, above all, it must be job-oriented and based on sound values.

Systemic evaluation

The most important aspect of this curriculum is that it will require a systemic evaluation process to ensure that it is aligned to its original intentions, but changes must be made when required.

 Although this new world of tomorrow is exciting, it is also going to be terrifying and challenging. Who knows where technology could take us? Cellphones became popular in the 1990s and early 2000s. As wireless networks improved, especially between 3G and 4G/4G LTE, the technology shifted from cellphones to smartphones.

Battery-powered cars will not exist — they would have already become obsolete, because technology is taking place at such an exponential rate that literally one innovation will replace another before any one blinks.

This is going to be the environment in which the children of tomorrow are going to live and work. How is the present curriculum going to help them cope in this new world of technology?

What is required is an inclusive conference which must include all stakeholders on the way forward. Implementation and lack of understanding about contextual issues are crucial elements and must be given priority, and above all, hopefully we have all learnt from our mistakes of the past.

As Nelson Mandela said, “It is not beyond our power to create a world in which all children have access to a good education. Those who do not believe this, have small imaginations.” 

There is always hope. To quote Desmond Tutu, Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” Two great men who never gave up on their dreams.

Despite the fact that education in South Africa is on a knife-edge, we desperately have to look to the future and learn from the past — for our children’s sake. DM


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All Comments 3

  • It all makes perfect sense, until you ask “what education system did all those technology innovators come through?” I mean, did they study under a school curriculum where “some disciplines [had] to be replaced by crucial skills such as critical thinking and entrepreneurial skills. Creativity [was] given a much bigger place in the curriculum”? Now, I’m not opposed to change in our education system – not at all. As long as maths, the real sciences and language remain at the forefront, you can tinker with the rest until the cows come home. However, in whatever curriculum you come up with, you will still need to find a way to change the attitude in SA to education. And the prevailing attitude is that the piece of paper you get, with your pass rate of 30%, entitles you to a job. That has to change. [PS: by the way, what on earth does ” … all this will do is further colonise an extremely outdated curriculum … ” actually mean, in layman terms?]

  • Somebody please explain “colonial ” education? If I study English then I study all the authors playwrights to see how the language is used. Ditto any language. Engineering, Science and Math are the current distillation of the Human experience over thousands of years. History is the colonial bit. Then as they say it depends who records it. Being schooled in Scotland ,every day contained a period of , English, Maths and Science. I have used my basic grounding to master many challenges later in life. A thorough grounding in these basic life skills is essential and no fancy methods or equipment are needed.

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