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Megan Salada

TE 815, Sec. 751
Critical Analysis Paper
Curriculum Reform Issues in
South Africa and the United States
The development and implementation of a new curriculum in Post-Apartheid
South Africa was a key focus of the new government. Education reform was necessary
as South Africa transitioned from a system of apartheid, “a policy of segregation and
political and economic discrimination” against black South Africans (, 2011), to racial equality within an undivided, democratic nation. The
current curriculum reflected the apartheid ideals of white privilege and authoritarianism.
With the end of apartheid came the need for a new curriculum that would “reflect the
social values that define the new South Africa” (Fiske, 2004, p. 154). In 1997, South
Africa adopted outcomes-based education and developed Curriculum 2005 as the
framework for their new curriculum. The values to be reflected in Curriculum 2005
revolved around “peace, prosperity, nonsexism, nonracialism, and democracy” (qtd. in
Fiske, 2004, p. 154). Of particular importance was the value of equity among South
African students.
Outcomes-based education (OBE) promotes equity by specifying learning
objectives to guide teachers’ instruction and students’ learning. OBE was also
implemented in the United States and evolved into the standards-based education
currently in place there. Both reforms focus on individualizing instruction for all students
through “learner centeredness, teachers as facilitators, relevance, contextualized
knowledge and cooperative learning” (Fiske, 2004, p. 157). These standards were put
into place in both countries with the hope of helping all students obtain educational
success, regardless of race, culture, ability, and economic status.
Unfortunately, OBE was not as successful in South Africa as it was intended to
be. One main issue with the curriculum was the lack of specific content included in the
objectives. While the broader knowledge and values to be acquired were outlined in the
curriculum, teachers were essentially expected to make decisions about what content to
teach and through which methods in order to foster the development of that knowledge.
This proved to be a major flaw in the implementation of OBE because “teachers are
typically trained to deliver curriculum, not to write it, and many had neither the skills, the

Curriculum Reform Issues


time, nor the inclination to create their own curriculum content” (Fiske, 2004, p. 161).
Although curriculum developers had hoped to promote democracy and community input
in the curriculum through such “underspecified” content, it resulted in less equity in the
educational system.
In my experience, the United States educational system has dealt with quite the
opposite issue. Our state standards seem quite comparable to OBE in South Africa, with
the purpose of defining broad learning objectives; however, U.S. teachers have an
overwhelming amount of curriculum materials at their disposal. Often times, curriculum
content is determined by the school district and handed to the teacher for delivery. U.S.
public school teachers are hardly expected to develop their own curriculum, but rather
given very specific content to teach, perhaps even a scripted curriculum, planned lessonby-lesson, to be read from a teacher’s manual. In such extreme form, this specific
content allows for very little creative input from the teacher. While South Africa dealt
with underspecified curriculum content, the United States deals with overspecified
curriculum content, both contributing flaws in the respective educational reforms.
Another flaw in Curriculum 2005 was the lack of teacher training prior to and
throughout its implementation. In an effort to begin the curriculum reformation as soon
as possible, teachers were given little training in how to effectively implement
Curriculum 2005. This led to several misinterpretations of the model and unsuccessful
implementation in many South African schools. Teachers also struggled to implement
Curriculum 2005 due to its “elaborate accounting system” (Fiske, 2004, p. 163) in which
teachers were expected to record the growth and achievements of each student in relation
to the specified objectives. This proved to be a tedious task and many teachers felt that it
“reduced the amount of time they could devote to classroom instruction and curriculum
planning” (Fiske, 2004, p. 163).
Similar struggles regarding classroom instruction have been faced by U.S.
teachers with the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). In
conjunction with standards-based education, NCLB requires standardized assessment of
student achievement with respect to standards determined by the individual states. As a
result of this high-stakes testing, teachers admit to spending more time “teaching to the
test,” or focusing on a limited set of content and skills that will be assessed in the state

Curriculum Reform Issues


achievement tests. As with Curriculum 2005, this has had the unintended effect of
detracting from quality classroom instruction. In South Africa, it was a matter of poor
training and tedious record-keeping, while in the U.S., it is a matter of assessment and
“teaching to the test.”
The last major downfall of Curriculum 2005 was its attempt to narrow the
achievement gap between White and Black South African schools. Although the
curriculum was intended to hold all students to a common standard as a display of
“equal” treatment, this had quite the opposite effect. Many aspects of Curriculum 2005
“worked well only under the physical and fiscal conditions found in wealthy schools”
(Fiske, 2004, p. 163). Students in wealthy schools, typically white, had access to more
resources, technology, educational experiences outside of school, and many other factors
that contributed to the relative success of Curriculum 2005 in these schools. On the other
hand, poor schools did not have access to the necessary materials and resources to ensure
the success of Curriculum 2005. As a result, the new curriculum failed to achieve equity
within the educational system, but instead “work[ed] best in privileged schools where
teachers enjoyed relatively small classes, had plenty of access to textbooks and other
resources, and were already accustomed to group work and the teaching of critical
thinking” (Fiske, 2004, p. 171). Despite a common curriculum, black students continued
to receive less adequate education than white students due to a lack of funding and
resources, much like segregated schools during Apartheid.
The United States has similarly battled an achievement gap between white and
minority students throughout its educational experience. As in South Africa, black and
other minority students in the U.S. often attend poor schools in low-income areas, while
white students attend more wealthy schools in high-income areas. Fewer educational
opportunities, lack of resources, underprepared teachers, and early childhood
experiences, among other factors, all contribute to the low achievement of minority
students in comparison to white students in the U.S. Despite efforts to narrow this gap,
poor, inner-city, black schools continue to receive less quality education than white
schools. In this manner, the United States and South African educational systems battle
similar issues of achievement gaps among black and white students.

Curriculum Reform Issues
Ambitious to achieve equity among all South African students, Curriculum 2005
was accompanied by several design and implementation flaws that contributed to South
Africa’s eventual departure from outcomes-based education in 2010. Its
“underspecified” content, lack of teacher training, record-keeping policies, and unequal
conditions in black and white schools left much to be desired. The United States has
interestingly struggled with many similar educational issues. In the future, hopefully
policy makers will take these past issues into account and improve education reform in
both countries.


Curriculum Reform Issues


Apartheid. 2011. In Retrieved June 13, 2011, from
Fiske, E. B. & Ladd, H. F. (2004). Outcomes-based education and equity. In Elusive
equity: Education reform in post-apartheid South Africa (p. 154-172).
Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press.