Why Curriculum Matters
In a developing nation like South Africa, we often hear of education being the gateway to a better life for the masses of people who are trapped in an endless cycle of poverty. The logic states that if I can access tertiary education and receive a degree, or other similar qualification, then I will be able to access the economy and earn a decent living in a ‘decent’ job. This is part of the reason why there is so much clamor right now in South Africa as the #FeesMustFall movement rallies to institute tuition-free education in the public University system here. Of course, there is more to it than that, but that is the subject of another discussion.
My primary concern as an educator who has been ‘in the system’ for some years now is not so much the front end of access to education, but the end of the conveyor belt – the finished product as it were. Are these hot-off-the-press graduates actually competent to do what we say they can? Are they indeed able to do the jobs that we are supposedly preparing them for? More and more I am concerned that we are not producing the kinds of people we need and I am not alone. In a recent study by McKinsey & Company regarding student unemployment in Europe, they investigated why so many graduates were still unemployed despite the job market growing. The problem is that graduates can’t actually do what is needed by their employers - one statistic is particularly damning: “27% reported that they have left a vacancy open in the past year because they could not find anyone with the right skills” and here is the reason – “in Europe, 74 % of education providers were confident that their graduates were prepared for work, but only 38 % of youth and 35 % of employers agreed”. I fear that this is much the same in South Africa – if not worse. The problem is that students are not being able to think well in order to solve real-world problems. They are being taught rather to ‘regurgitate and repeat’ and thus have nothing to offer but the same, boring solutions. Instead of being fresh and innovative, they are stale and stayed.
As educators, we should look carefully at our curriculum as well as our pedagogy. Our classrooms should be incubators and simulators that stimulate interest and excitement not places where good thinking goes to die. So, how do we fix this? I have been lucky enough to be part of the Education by Design Team that specializes in helping institutions and educators develop their curriculum and modules in a way that I think this country needs. Using the approach developed in the US by high school educational consultants Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins (Understanding by Design), this team of international consultants helps make our content “real-world” worthy and perhaps will make all the effort students are making to access this education worthwhile for us all.
Dr. Darryl Meekins, PhD
Senior EbD Consultant