The issue of the new education curriculum in Zimbabwe has generated more heat than light. Different sectors, groupings, captains of commerce and industry, parents and teachers have registered their unwillingness to embrace the new curriculum at this material time.
By ARIBINO NICHOLAS
Arguably, the point of convergence between and among individuals and groupings that are at odds with the new curriculum is not about the new curriculum, but about timing and lack of preparedness of members of the teaching fraternity.
The conception of curriculum is very hard to define. Valiance in Oliva (1992) avers that the curriculum field is by no means clear; as a field of practice, curriculum lacks clean boundaries. To that effect, a number of authorities have asserted that curriculum seems at times analogous to the blind men’s elephant. It is the pachyderm’s trunk to some; its thick legs to others; its pterodactyl-like flopping ears to some people; its massive, rough sides to other persons; and its rope-like tail to still others. Though it may be vehemently denied, no one has ever seen a curriculum, not a real, total, tangible, visible entity called curriculum, (Oliva, 1992).
Given the above cloudy picture of the conception of curriculum, many interpretations of the concept have been floated by different scholars in scientific literature. Depending on their philosophical beliefs and orientations, scholars have proffered the following interpretations of curriculum;
Curriculum is that which is taught in school.
Curriculum is a set of subjects
Curriculum is content
Curriculum is a programme of studies.
Curriculum is a set of materials.
Curriculum is a sequence of courses.
Curriculum is a set of performance objectives.
Curriculum is a course of study.
Curriculum is everything that goes on within a school, including extra class activities, guidance and interpersonal relationships.
Curriculum is that which is taught both inside and outside of school directed by the school.
Curriculum is everything that is planned by the school personnel.
Curriculum is a series of experiences undergone by learners in a school.
Curriculum is that which an individual learner experiences as a result of schooling.
The above conceptions of curriculum are varied in terms of breadth and depth. Some interpretations of curriculum are shallow as seen in one which views curriculum as subjects taught and in others curriculum is perceived in a broad way as all the experiences of learners, both in school and out, directed by the school.
The definition of curriculum can safely be argued as being social and a function of space, time and geography. The long and short of it all, is that the definition of the word curriculum is in the people not in individuals. In the context of this paper, curriculum shall be seen in the eyes of Hilda Taba, who unpacked it in a discussion of criteria for curriculum development;
A curriculum is a plan for learning. All curricula, no matter what their particular design, are composed of certain elements. A curriculum usually contains a statement of aims and of specific objectives; it indicates some selection and organisation of content; it either implies or manifests certain patterns of learning and teaching, whether because the objectives demand them or because the content organisation requires them. Finally, it includes a programme of evaluation of the outcomes.
Given the definition of curriculum, it may also be argued that a curriculum may be defined by purposes, contexts and strategies.
When for instance, a curriculum is defined by purpose, the bottom line of such a curriculum is the development of reflective thinking on the part of the learner or the transmission of the cultural heritage.
Going a stage further, a curriculum, which is context bound, seeks out to be child centred. For example, a child centred curriculum clearly reveals its orientation — the learner, who is the primary focus of the progressive school of philosophy. In terms of contexts, the definition of curriculum sometimes states the settings within which it takes place.
Power lies in the collective and because of that a curriculum should be a result of wide consultations with the people, industry and commerce, civic groupings, unions and faith based groups, among others. A curriculum should reflect the ideas, ideals and aspirations of a multi-cultural society.
This is where we seem to have gaps in Zimbabwe because the consultations that were done did not cut across the divide of a multicultural society. A living argument here is of people with disabilities and their institutions like ZimCare, which is largely a constituency of persons with intellectual disabilities; the new curriculum is very silent on the needs and rights of the persons constituting this constituency. This is a constituency hidden in plain sight, a forgotten tribe as it were.
Even in instances where consultations were made by the Primary and Secondary Education ministry, the voice of the people consulted, especially that of parents has been a big “no” to the new curriculum. The polemic, which is being put across by the people arguing against the new curriculum, is that teacher education curriculum, which is responsible for churning out teachers, is not sufficiently prepared to do that. Teachers in the system, despite the in-house workshops that have been conducted are not yet adequately equipped to embrace the new curriculum.
The new curriculum comes with extra demands for resources in schools, which are already over-stretched and the majority of rural schools have not been electrified yet the new curriculum comes with a premium on technology (Most teachers and children in rural areas are not even aware of a computer mouse).
Having observed some spending patterns by the government one would be forgiven to think that the government has the capacity to adequately prepare schools, especially rural ones for the new curriculum.
The new curriculum should be pregnant enough to accommodate the diverse learning needs of learners; this diversity should be reflected through a curriculum that is sensitive to gifted, talented and creative children.
For the gifted child, there should be academic pathways to explore their areas of intellectual giftedness, for the talented there should also be a specific focus on nurturing their talents and for the creative students the curriculum should also come handy to help them horn their creativity.
The above argument is very expensive and calls for re-skilling and re-tooling the entire teacher training system and transforming and resourcing schools in order to meet the diverse needs of learners without necessarily focusing on only five O levels, including mathematics, science and English. Coming up with a new curriculum is, therefore, not like making a cup of coffee; essentially it is not just instantaneous.
Given the above protestations, it is very unfortunate to hear the-powers-that-be intimating that they will not abandon the new curriculum. The curriculum from what the majority of Zimbabweans have said so far is phenomenally unpopular.
The curriculum is not adaptive at the moment. In terms of purpose, it may sound okay, but where context and strategy are concerned, it has gaps. This curriculum may not be adaptive for schools on farms, mining compounds and in rural areas.
As we speak right now, schools are shorthanded in terms of personnel and the government is asking parents to shoulder employment costs for new ECD teachers; parents, who are already struggling to pay school fees.
A curriculum should be a voice of the people and not of a minister responsible for Education. High handedness will not pay off, the best the-powers–that-be can do is to listen to all stakeholders and approach the issue of the new curriculum piece-meal, not like a cup of coffee.
Decisions pertaining to crafting and implementing a new curriculum are not an event but a process, Zimbabwe should proceed by way of careful steps, which take into cognisance its level of socio-economic development.
Adopting supra-sensory models, where the new curriculum is concerned, will ultimately lead to discriminating against a segment of learners, who are especially in hard to reach areas. It is the obligation of the government to level out the educational terrain for all learners before implementing an unpopular curriculum.
Aribino Nicholas is ZimCare Trust country director. He writes in his personal capacity.