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Anti-apartheid changes under fire

SOUTH AFRICA. After 15 months of planning, the South African government has announced a new school curriculum aimed at ending apartheid education and totally changing the way pupils learn.

But the proposed reforms have come under fire from teachers, who have accused the education department of not involving teacher organisations, not explaining how the new curriculum will work and rushing through changes so as to deliver on political promises before a general election in 1999.

Deputy director general of education Dr Ihron Rensburg said the new curriculum would be fully unveiled in January and would be introduced in 1998.

Curriculum emphasis, he said, would be shifted away from content towards outcome. "The focus will be on learning by doing, learning how to learn and learning through group experience," he said.

Dozens of traditional subjects will be regrouped into eight broad learning categories: communications; literacy and language learning; numeracy and mathematics; life orientation; human and social sciences; physical and natural sciences; arts and culture; and economic and management sciences.

Although not spelled out by Rensburg, controversial sections of syllabuses, such as history's old concentration on Afrikaner experience, will be axed and replaced with subject matter deemed more representative of the whole of South African society.

While teachers expressed support for reforms which would get rid of apartheid education and the current over-reliance by schools on rote learning and traditional teaching, they are upset about not participating more fully in curriculum planning and about the short time available to implement curriculum reforms.

The South African Democratic Teachers' Union has asked for more time before curriculum changes are finalised, to enable it to make an input. Spokeswoman Kate Skinner said the education department had failed to involve teachers or the union adequately in its policy process.

Andrew Pyper, director of the National Professional Teachers' Organisation South Africa, said teachers were most worried about the speed at which the new curriculum would be implemented. Curriculum reforms, he added, normally took between three and five years.

And Susan Rees, president of the Association of Professional Teachers, said her organisation was both angry about the way the reform process had been handled and worried about rushing through changes.

Rensburg, however, stressed that the curriculum was the result of careful planning and development and that the department had consulted groups concerned with education, including teachers.

"We would like to assure South Africans that all necessary considerations, such as in-service teacher training, assessment procedures and student orientation are being taken into account," he said.

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