Transformation and Outcomes-Based Education in South Africa: Opportunities and Challenges

By Soudien, Crain; Baxen, Jean | The Journal of Negro Education, Fall 1997 | Go to article overview

Transformation and Outcomes-Based Education in South Africa: Opportunities and Challenges


Soudien, Crain, Baxen, Jean, The Journal of Negro Education


This article deconstructs the discourse of outcomes-based education (OBE) reform in South Africa by addressing the following questions: who is spearheading and managing the reform process and how; what philosophical and pedagogical truths are being established in this process; what identity-producing mechanisms are at work; and what notions of a South African identity are being shaped as a result? The authors maintain that the proposed reforms are neither benign nor innocent but profoundly partial, calling for a process that is more sensitive to the differences that have animated South Africa's history and an interrogation of those differences.

The difficulties of reconstruction and social renewal, as citizens of the Republic of South Africa are learning in their new democracy, are great and demand levels of commitment that challenge deep-seated and entrenched sensibilities about the nature of the world and its organization. During apartheid, education was used not only to achieve social separation but, insofar as it was built around a social philosophy, it was also the legitimating arena for White supremacy and for the complex system of racial and cultural ordering that evolved around it. Within the old order's traditional educational institutions, the hidden and explicit curricula were configured to produce, reproduce, and validate racial separation and hierarchy. Presumptions of European superiority and African inferiority within this canon were commonplace-indeed, they were established as modern truths about human progress and development. These truths provided the ideological foundations upon which apartheid education was built. According to Lotz (1996), within South African schools,

. . . recourse [was had] to modernist arguments of scientific forms of rationality which formed the interpretive grid around which norms, concerning the ways individual groups may be classified and what might constitute a correct policy, were defined [for] the ensuing development of apartheid ideologies and [its] . . . educational policies and practice. (p. 58)

It is this legacy that the new government of South Africa has been forced to confront. How it will meet the challenge of changing a previously fragmented, inequitable, and racially and culturally oppressive system of education into one that will satisfy the requirements of equity, equality, redress, and social and cultural empowerment has become the question of the day. How one might better understand and deconstruct the discourses emerging from the slew of educational reforms currently being considered or under way in South Africa is the focus of this article. In particular, the present study examines how these discourses are embodied in the outcomes-based education (OBE) reforms proposed by the new South African Department of Education (RSADE or DE).

This article seeks to develop an understanding of OBE's discursive modalities by addressing the following questions pertaining to the development and implementation of OBE in South Africa:

(1) Who is spearheading and managing the process and how?

(2) What philosophical and pedagogical truths are being established in the curriculummaking process?

(3) What identity-producing mechanisms are at work in this process, and what particular notions of a South African identity are being shaped as a result?

The basis upon which this analysis rests is shaped by an appropriation of critical and poststructural theories. In critical theory terms, we seek to determine how much "space" has been accorded to previously disadvantaged groups within the current curriculum development process. The poststructural angle brought to the discussion is that of interrogating the parameters of power, as defined by the nexus between race and class and knowledge in particular, in the making of new discourse. We begin by reviewing the South African and international discussion in the area of OBE and proceed, on the basis of a documentary review of the new proposals and interviews with selected role-players, to interrogate the discursive imperatives of the OBE development and implementation process. …

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