It’s Time to End the Decade of Confusion about OBE in South Africa

  • William Spady International Director, Heart Light Education, 113 Water Road, Walmer, 6070


The fundamental elements of what is known today as Outcome-Based Education are clearly embodied in numerous familiar models of learning, assessment, and credentialing in the non-education world that, in some cases, are many centuries old. In virtually all of these models, successful outcome performance is the clear/fixed/pre-determined/known/constant factor in the equation, and time is the flexible/variable/adaptable factor. In formal education, however, exactly the opposite pattern exists: time is the clear/fixed/pre-determined/known/ constant factor, and learning successes the flexible/variable/adaptable factor. This makes “authentic” OBE implementation extremely difficult for modern education systems to implement because they are fundamentally Time-Based – defined, organized, and driven by the calendar, schedule, and clock – not Outcome-Based as some profess. South Africa is no exception to this rule – which made its enthusiastic embracing of OBE in 1997 problematic from the start. In explaining the core fundamentals of the OBE concept and how those fundamentals evolved(particularly in North America) prior to 1997, this paper makes clear that South Africa’s Curriculum2005 initiative missed the OBE mark on almost every essential count: 1) not having a clear, compelling, and operational framework of “Exit Outcomes” on which to ground the reform and the curricular changes which drove it; 2) making no reference, either in theory or practice, to OBE’s Four Operating Principles – which enable modern day educators to get as close to “real “implementation as the Time-Based paradigm of education allows; 3) missing the mark significantly on understanding and implementing what Outcomes are – culminating demonstrations of learning– the multiple forms they take, and the multiple ways in which they can be designed and assessed;4) bogging down in micro content, assessments, marking, and record-keeping – which advanced BE implementers warn strongly against; 5) lacking the future-focused grounding of OBE designs that are legitimately called “transformational;” and 6) falling into the familiar pattern of calling its “CBO” thinking and practices “OBE.”The latter relates to an almost universal constellation of practices that make educational systems virtually unchangeable from an OBE perspective: Curriculum Based Outcomes, Content Bound Objectives, Calendar Based Opportunities, Cellular Based Organization, Contest Biased Orientations, Convenience Based Operations, and Convention Bound Obsolescence. Unfortunately, Curriculum 2005 and its key advocates appeared to take these seven CBO’s as givens, which made their continuous reference to OBE incongruous at best. Consequently, the paper argues that, had South Africa’s key educational policy makers in1997, and since, taken the time to understand the six key points above, they would have been able to make a more constructive choice about the educational reforms they sought to bring about. First, recognizing these major disparities between their Curriculum 2005 strategies and the fundamentals of genuine OBE, they could have chosen to bring C2005 more strongly into alignment with OBE and modified their initial course of action considerably. Or, recognizing these major disparities, they could have chosen to drop the OBE label altogether and thereby reduced or avoided a lot of the confusion generated by implying that Curriculum 2005 required significant changes in familiar practice. For example, by maintaining the very “non-OBE” Matric and annual examination systems that had always been in place, the government kept everyone locked into traditional/conventional modes of thinking about learning, curriculum, achievement, assessment, and qualifications. Conclusion: South Africa should stop referring to OBE in any form. OBE never existed in1997, and has only faded farther from the scene as C2005 was replaced by the Revised National Curriculum Statement. The real challenge facing educators is how to implement educational practices that are sound and make significant differences in the lives of ALL South African learners.

Original Research