|Further Diploma in Education (Educational Management) by Distance Education at the University of Pretoria, South Africa (CIE, 2002, 55 p.)|
|5. The Curriculum|
The theories of learning are discussed here because it will be important that the students use effective study methods to prepare them for the examination. The underlying theory of learning, as expressed in the Students Guide (p.19) is that learners should understand things by organising their notes in the following way:
Core theme ® Main ideas ® Main facts ® Essential concepts ® Appropriate words
Students are given a number of strategies to help them develop their self-study skills, such as indexing, self-criticism and time management, and they are given notes to guide their writing, but as assignments are not compulsory and opportunities for feedback are limited, it could be said that already disadvantaged students are further disadvantaged through a lack of mediation and support from lecturers. This can be seen if one examines some examples from the assignments. When issues like innovation are discussed in the first module there is a lack of concrete examples (which a lecturer teaching the class might give) so when learners are asked questions like Take a change you wish to implement through the Eight Step Innovative Change Model the type of change could be misinterpreted or misunderstood. On page 19 learners are asked to explain organisational management after having the two words explained separately. This task arguably involves synthesising linguistic explanations rather than memory or understanding and favours those who speak English as a first language. Later in module 3 they are invited to evaluate the bureaucratic model, though the criteria they are to use are not made explicit. In the same module they are asked to explain certain concepts, such as: policy-making, professional control, zone of acceptance, professional pride, professional action, consultation, and sharing in policy-making, even though some of these terms and their meanings were not made explicitly clear in the previous chapter. This is also likely to favour those with better language skills and more cultural capital. There are plenty of other examples.
Perhaps questions need to be asked about how the materials can work for distance and ESOL learners in a way that synthesises and mediates abstract theories, personal theories, personal experiences and concrete examples. At present there is too much reliance on the abilities of the learner to sink or swim.
Although most of the respondents indicated they were happy with the content of the curriculum and its appropriacy to their working lives, a number of issues relating to curriculum design are worthy of further consideration, particularly in relation to the distance students who have less opportunity for the curriculum to be mediated by lecturers. In the Student Guide (1999:8) which seems to be the only additional information given to distance students, the advantages of distance education are noted as being: convenience (studying at home at one's own pace); practical contents (enriching one's professional knowledge through the practical contents of the management subjects); open registration; affordability (as compared to formal modes of education); and university quality (the different courses are developed by various departments in the Faculty of Education at the University of Pretoria). However, distance students do clearly feel they have some needs that are not being met by the course and it is not clear that their experience of education is being placed at the centre of the studies they are embarking on. The issues discussed below are firstly, the references drawn on for the curriculum documents; secondly, the approach taken to the issue of multi-cultural education; thirdly, the relationship between theory and practice; and fourthly, the issue of language use.
A survey of the references in the handbooks reveals that references are predominantly from the US, Canada and the UK, with a minority from SA. No references could be found from other African or developing countries or Asia. The only exception to this is the fourth handbook, Law of Education, which is oriented around issues in education in the South African context in relation to South African law. Thus, the South African context and issues of transformation are much more foregrounded in this handbook while they are less obvious in the other handbooks. This perhaps suggests that transformation is viewed as a legalistic change, rather than a change which challenges established modes of thinking in relation to organisation and management, largely informed by Western writers. Furthermore there is apparently no reference to African theories of organisation, such as Ubuntu, or post-modern theories, which might encourage challenges to established ways of thinking. When learners are presented with theories of motivation, Maslow is presented as unproblematic and universal, when the work of writers like Hofstede has called into question the appropriacy of universal theories of motivation. In a diverse society like SA this could be a more effective starting point for engaging with the realities of learners' lives.
British, American and South African (white) culture is presented as the norm throughout the handbooks. The cartoons and illustrations throughout (with a few exceptions e.g. black pupils in the US) are of white people and white culture.3 African South African experience gets its highest profile in the handbook on the law and education. Normal school environments in assignments are therefore presented as being well-resourced (ex-model C) as in the example (pages 208-209) with an aquarium, sofas, bean bags, and computers. There is another example on page 182 where a (presumably Model C) school is held up as an example in advertising a post. In each of the handbooks there were only a few examples of African school contexts.
3 (See, for example, Organisational Management 401: e.g. p.23, p.114, p.127, p.151, p.168, p.170, p.171, p.172, p.207, p.211, p.213, p.218, p.244, p.254, p.260, p.262, p.263, p.265, p.266).
Similarly, in the discussion about punishment in Organisational Management, caning is not discussed or problematised, though it is likely to be an issue in many of the teachers' schools, though perhaps not in the historically white schools. In some of the other handbooks it is discussed and condoned in certain circumstances. It is noted that Section 11(2) of Act 200 of 1993 is thought to prohibit corporal punishment, but if its use is acceptable to a community then it is thought to be acceptable. The example of Zimbabwe is given as a country where an attempt to ban corporal punishment was reversed and it is noted that corporal punishment should not be seen as child abuse. Thus, it is engaged with as a legal matter rather than a classroom management issue.
Compared to the other handbooks, there is considerable attention given in Law of Education to the realities of different school contexts in South Africa and to issues such as HIV/AIDS, corporal punishment, and crime, which may be more prevalent in historically disadvantaged schools. However, this focus on real school contexts is framed by the law and when other issues, such as management-styles and organisational approaches are considered in the other handbooks, there is little attempt to problematise the styles and approaches themselves (particularly in historically disadvantaged contexts), but rather, a rational approach is taken whereby problems and experiences of teachers are assumed to be solvable by the rational application of largely Euro-centric models.
For example, in Organisational Management 401, module 8 (Classroom management for multi-cultural education) is framed in terms of universally appropriate approaches to classroom management, which can be applied to South African classrooms. The title is a misnomer as there is almost no reference to actual South African school contexts and the complexity of multi-culturalism in South Africa (or the fact that many African teachers in rural areas would teach only African pupils). Furthermore, all the cartoons in this module represent white people or white children. This module does not seem to have been adapted in any way to take account of the needs and experiences of distance education students in South Africa.
Another revealing instance of underlying assumptions in the curriculum can be found in Organisational Management 401, in the module on managing parental involvement (p.259). There is the heading Ethnic minority families, which makes particular assumptions about schools in SA. This is clearly highly inappropriate for the majority of distance learners as the term has relevance for specific school contexts. Many case studies draw from UK and US examples and this can lead to potential confusion. For example, a case study in Organisational Management (p.30) notes an influx of foreign (ESOL) pupils in what seems to be an English school and one has to wonder why a relevant South African example was not given.
In general, space is given (in assignments) for learners to provide their own examples and write about their own experiences, but the links between the largely theoretical content of much of the handbooks and teachers' own experience is sketchy. Organisational Management 402 has more of a practical focus than Organisational Management 401 and Education Management 402, particularly in the later modules on Information Management, Financial Management, Budgeting, School Finances, and Facilities and Asset Management. The gap throughout the handbooks seems to be in terms of mediating theoretical and conceptual approaches to the issues of education management with teachers' own experiences. For residential students, with plenty of interaction and shared cultural capital with lecturers, that would put them at a considerable advantage in comparison to distance students, working in rural parts of South Africa.
In terms of language, despite the lack of a glossary, the presentation in the handbooks is reasonably accessible and jargon-free, though there are some difficult words, phrases and forms of expression (given that many of the learners may not be fluent in English) (e.g. behavioural implementation, management-style continuum, and in this example:
This definition [of an organisation] explores the relationships and bond between components of the organisation, and embraces the concept of professional solidarity by suggesting that there is a unit of will and interest - a commonality - that pervades the willingness and central obedience to the task issued by the leadership (Organisational Management 402, p.5)
The presentation in all the handbooks is not the same and not all give the same amount of space to learners to complete their assignments.