Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751
CARL, Arend. The state of curriculum studies in faculties of education at South African universities. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2012, vol.52, n.4, pp.629-645. ISSN 2224-7912.
When educational issues are highlighted in the South African context, it is clear many of the problems are curriculum related. A reflection on and investigation into these issues is often required as many of these issues are contextualised within a certain practice. Within each curriculum context there will be curriculum practitioners with varying levels of expertise. South Africa has gone through a number of curriculum changes over the last years, for example a completely new school curriculum with its own implementation challenges, teachers who were not properly prepared to implement these changes, little involvement of teachers who should be the key curriculum change agents and a shortage of curriculum specialists. If a curriculum is to succeed and meet its goals, then key roleplayers, such as teachers and other curriculum specialists need to be enabled to engage critically with the curriculum. Teachers therefore need to be properly prepared with regard to curriculum studies to enable them to ask critical questions, to reflect critically on the curriculum they have to implement and to become creatively involved in curriculum development as curriculum inquirers. Barrow (1984:13) is of the opinion that it is curriculum theory which will determine and set standards for effective curriculum practices. Are teachers in South Africa able to do this as it requires high levels of theorising? Teachers as key curriculum agents, need to have a sound understanding of curriculum studies and the question arises as to who is responsible to provide opportunities to achieve this goal? In this regard, teacher training institutions have a most important role to play. What is meant by a South African curriculum studies? What is the current state of curriculum studies as an independent studyfield in faculties of education at South African universities? How has the field of curriculum studies developed in South Africa? To what extent is curriculum theory included in teacher training programmes? To what extent are teachers exposed to and trained in curriculum theory? Is curriculum studies an independent field of study in its own right within teacher training programmes at faculties of education at South African universities. This article reports on an investigation which was done to find answers to some of these questions and to try and get a view of what the state of curriculum studies is in teachers training programmes in faculties of education at South African universities. Curriculum studies is a field of study in its own right which investigates the phenomenon of curriculum so that the curriculum can be optimally developed and implemented. It is a well-established research field1 which needs to be continually investigated in order to understand curriculum better. Very little research has been done in South Africa on curriculum theory and how it is accommodated in teacher training programmes at South African universities. Curriculum studies is often seen as a very broad and complex field and it is difficult to encapsulate its meaning in one definition. It is a field of studies in its own right as it has its own set of theoretical constructs and principles which guide it, based on a sound curriculum knowledge and appropriate competences.2 Curriculum studies continually generates new knowledge as it is a dynamic field of study. It has its own theoreticians and practitioners, a fact which ensures that it qualifies as an independentfield of study in its own right (See Oliva 1988:17-18; Kelly 2009:6). Ornstein and Hunkins (2009:31-177) describe certain foundations which justify curriculum studies as an independent field of study, namely philosophical (pp31-58), historical (pp 1070145) and social foundations (pp 149-177). Their viewpoint is representative of the literature of why curriculum studies is an independent field of studies, when they state ... curriculum as a field of study is crucial to the health of schools and society. ... there is no denying that curriculum affects educators, students, and other members of society. The field of curriculum is not intended to provide precise answers but to increase our understanding of its complexities. Curriculum results from social activity. Curriculum is a dynamic field! A research project was undertaken in 2010-2011 to make an in-depth investigation into the state of curriculum studies as a field of studies in faculties of education at South African universities. Questions such as: What is meant when we talk about a South African curriculum studies? Is there such a phenomenon as a typical South African curriculum studies? How has curriculum studies developed in South Africa? To what extent is curriculum studies being practised as an independent field of studies in faculties of education where teachers are trained? What is the current nature and state of curriculum theory at faculties of education at South African universities? To what extent are teachers enabled through teacher training programmes to function as true curriculum agents who are able to think critically about and conceptualise the curriculum? To answer these questions, a research project was launched, by doing a literature study, a research questionnaire and semi-structured interviews during a visit to these institutions. Results indicated that curriculum studies as a field of study does not come into its own right in most of the teacher training programmes, especially in the undergraduate programmes. There are a few exceptions, but the view that curriculum studies is the process of preparing student teachers to be able to teach their school subject, in other words, a stronger focus on the practical aspects and not curriculum theory, is prevalent. There is thus a stronger focus on the practical aspects of curriculum. The conceptualisation of curriculum studies as a field of study is present but only in the minority of faculties of education. At most of the institutions which participated in this reseach project little curriculum theory is done at an in-depth level. There is also no evidence that there is a unique South African curriculum studies as the views and practices are too diverse and fragmented. Aspects of curriculum studies are presented, for example, as separate themes within modules, sometimes as separate modules (mostly as the teaching of a school subject) and in a few cases, as separate programmes at Masters level. It is recommended that a national discourse be promoted to enable all roleplayers to participate in the debate om how curriculum studies can be developed more extensively. Faculties of education should collaborate in creating opportunities which may contribute towards enhancing the field of curriculum studies, e.g. through the formation of a national forum. Curriculum studies and the issue of curriculum theory should be core components of all teacher training programmes so that all teachers are empowered in the field of curriculum studies. It is clear that a great amount of developmental work still has to be done to enhance the field of curriculum studies and to sensitise all involved in teacher training of the importance of being knowledgeable and competent in the field of curriculum studies.
Keywords : Curriculum; curriculum studies; curriculum development; curriculum agent; curriculum theory; subject curriculum development; curriculum change; teacher training; empowerment; discourse; curriculum thinki; student teachers.