National Research Institute Commentary
By Dr MICHAEL UNAGE
THE Prime Minister, Hon Peter O’Neill’s determinism to remove the Outcome-Based Education (OBE) as early as 2013 is commendable.
While critics, such as the editor of the National (14/10/12), have cautioned the Prime Minister to take due diligence, reservations have been sensed in the Department of Education as well. Some even have suggested a modification to OBE.
However, the futility of OBE was discussed as early as 2005 in a series of articles by this author.
It has taken almost seven years now before a strong political will is demonstrated to the demise of OBE.
Fully supporting the PM’s abrupt move, there is really nothing to exit in OBE than the removal of confusion and misunderstanding that was generated and perpetuated in the education system.
Most arguments around OBE spring from widespread misunderstanding.
We shall clarify here.
There are three currents regarding the successive educational reforms; namely the Matane Report of 1986, the education structural reform that began in 1992, and the education curriculum reform (OBE) approved for use in 2000.
The so-called Matane Report began earlier and suggested an education system that would be determined by PNG’s socio-cultural factors.
The use of vernacular as a medium of instruction at elementary schools and the emphasis placed on cultural subjects is a reflection of the Matane ideology.
The structural reform was actually driven by the international community, while AusAID was given the role of financier and supervisor.
The third current is the curriculum reforms.
In the last decade we have seen the Curriculum Reform Implementation Project (CRIP) develop the OBE curriculum at snail’s pace, until its completion only recently.
The tardiness of the OBE curriculum development and lack of awareness and in-service for teachers were the real obstacles in delivering OBE.
Prime Minister John Howard was once asked to comment on OBE in Western Australia.
His response was blunt and abrupt. He said OBE was a goobleygook – a nonsensical jargon.
OBE was protected in the National Education Department and the education system for the last 11 years as it was the brain-child of the then Education Secretary, Dr Joseph Pagelio.
However, some of his public statements on OBE then were filled with ambiguity.
Even a senior lecturer at the University of Goroka, on interview with 93 FM in 2009, did mention that he had absolutely no clue about OBE.
Experts in the education system may differ, but what the Prime Minister O’Neill wants is the removal of the jargon, the phantom and not the subjects’ content.
For most of the time teachers were at liberty to deliver what was easy and convenient in their domain. The real difference was in the curriculum materials developed by AusAID consultants and their PNG cohorts.
They were the real beneficiaries of OBE project, while the teachers and students were made to suffer the consequences.
Many factors have hindered the application of OBE in the classroom situation.
William Spady, who invented OBE, introduces three categories of OBE.
He calls them, the traditional, the transitional and the transformational OBE.
The category that is introduced into PNG school system is the traditional OBE.
Thus, the subject content does not change, because traditional OBE concerns subject outcomes and not the competent outcome of the learner as in transitional, and career oriented outcomes seen in transformational OBE.
As such, there is no need for a grand exercise to exit traditional OBE, as there was never a paradigm shift in learning, but the shift of emphasis in classroom interaction between the teacher and pupil. However minor changes to some wording may be required in the OBE text book developed so far.
I don’t think the Prime Minister should go ahead to hire a bunch of experts to actually design an exit strategy.
Again the Prime Minister is right in demanding the use of English only for formal instructions in schools.
I have argued in my column some year ago that the use of vernacular as a medium of instruction is ridiculous, because instructions in subsequent learning years are all in English.
The bridging of elementary to lower primary was a real enigma for the teachers concerned.
Thus, the language problem was not an issue of either the structural or the curriculum reform, but concerns the medium of instruction and can be done away with ease.
However, there is still ambiguity as to whether the drop in the quality of education is a result of exclusive use of vernacular or as a result of the introduction of OBE in 2000.
This requires some study.
But my conviction points in a different direction.
The drop in the quality of education may result from lack of availability of funds, lack of proper management, minimal level of teacher professional development, decline in teacher and student discipline, disproportionate teacher-student ratio, lack of school physical infrastructure, not enough school libraries, scarcity and irregular supply of text books, and the deterioration of basic government services.
However, with the current availability of funds to schools, people likewise expect the delivery of quality education.
Schools should manage funds properly, build more classrooms, make text books available, give schools a facelift, increase in-house training for teachers, and provide incentives to teachers.
Finally, quality education depends on who is instructing our children from morning till noon.
*Dr. Michael Unage is a Senior Research Fellow at the National Research Institute (NRI). He is the author of Review Education Process published in 2007 and many NRI publications. Please share your comments with him by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions shared above are his own and does not reflect that of the NRI.