Most schools set ‘teaching’ as a target (curriculum completion or curriculum coverage), rather than focusing learning and assessment of that learning as the target in the school. Since (i) ‘learning/assessment’ is the output, (ii) ‘teaching/ instruction’ is the input and (iii) ‘facilitation of learning’ is the process of attaining the educational outcomes, schools have to set targets related to the outputs, meaning the learning targets of learners. If schools continue to focus on the input mechanisms of the educational process, then they will be consistently vulnerable in relation to the output and outcomes, since these are the ‘yard sticks’ that are used by the public in judging the success of educational institutions like schools.
Here are 4 issues that divert the attention of teachers and principals from focusing on the interest of learners:
- Firstly, the intention of teaching is not about ‘teaching the subject’, but rather the ‘teaching of learners’, through the subject as a means of interacting and engaging. Schools must get away from ‘getting caught up’ in the routine of day-to-day, and year-to-year activities, to such an extent that they totally miss the individual interests of the learners. Individual learners soon become a ‘blob’ in the total population of the school, as their identity becomes lost. Teachers and the management become caught up with ‘school’ stuff, and the individual learners soon disappear from in a one-size-fits-all approach.
- Secondly, the patterns and routines of blaming and/or complaining will be projected on current learners, because teachers and principals compare and apportion behaviour to previous learners. Instead of acknowledging current learners, they make comments such as, “she is just like learner X of that year”, or “he is behaving just like his brother, sister, etc.”. These learners are therefore not judged on the basis of their own behaviour. Requests from learners to management, related to functions and privileges, will be evaluated on the basis of previous experience with other learners.
- Thirdly, the general disconnectedness and disengagement of staff from learners results in planning and preparations that is vague and generic, rather than being linked to the unique needs of the learners in the specific class groups and grades. Most planning will be very similar to ‘last year and years before’ rather than linked to the current learners for whom the teacher is responsible.
- Fourthly, expectations of achievement are not learner specific, but related to a compliance expectation of ‘passing or failing’, which is in South Africa around 30% – 40% in tests and examinations. Therefore, learning is focused on attaining the minimum pass mark. This leads to the accumulation of deficit knowledge (approximately 70% or 60% if the minimum is achieved) in various subjects, topics or themes. This is even more challenging in subjects where scaffolding of knowledge, skills and attitudes are pivotal.
In our methodology, we regard curriculum management as the key ‘turnaround’ component in the classroom. But in South Africa, this is often misinterpreted as ‘subject management’. Curriculum management is much more comprehensive as it is all of those things that need to be facilitated between the principals (with the assistance of circuit managers), and heads of departments (assisted by the subject advisors), in order to ensure that quality education takes place in the classroom. Subject management will be all of the things that need to be facilitated between the heads of department and teachers in order to ensure that the teaching, facilitation of learning, and assessment processes are of quality. Through our ‘lesson plan builder’, on our school intelligent system (www.sisopen.co.za), we ensure that all the administrative work is taken care by the system, and teachers are only involved in the professional planning components of lesson planning and preparation that will benefit and assist the learning in the classroom, rather than ‘bureaucratic, compliance planning’.