Outcome based education – reform - Solomon Star News

Outcome based education – reform

23 June 2014

I would like to acknowledge John Iromea and Jay A Taunau for sharing their views on Outcome Based Education (OBE) in the past Solomon Star issues.

Although looking at different representations of any curriculum reform, their discussions had provided good information with sound arguments concerning OBE reform in the Solomon Islands.

I hope their discussions so far have had some influence or impact on someone somewhere in the Solomon Islands.

As Jay stated “this is a very important change that will affect our education system” and if I may add, this change can have the potential to influence our country’s future. To this effect I want to contribute to this discussion.

My whole intention is basically to share what I think I know and experience with regards to OBE and the reform in Solomon Islands. I hope this can be simple for any reader to get something out of it because I believe education should always be the priority in any country that needs a better future.

First I will highlight two general understandings and recap on the topic of discussion. Then I will briefly outline the different curriculum representations or phases in a reform. Subsequently I will point out what I think about our OBE in Solomon Islands and note some challenges. Finally, I will provide some suggestions for Solomon Islands OBE reform.

Two understandings

1.       What we know is just like a grain of sand while the vast bodies of knowledge are like the whole sandy beach that stretches for kilometres. So it is not sarcastic to say that we have limited knowledge. 

2.       Whatever idea or plan we have we will always have supporters and not supporters. We also have those who do not know and those who do not bother.

Topic of Discussion 

Just to recap on this discussion about OBE. Our country Solomon Islands is reforming its education system from objective to OBE. One reason is we want an education system that can produce learners that are successful in that they are equipped with the knowledge, skills and qualities (values and attitudes) required for their everyday lives after leaving school. Learners should have the ability to keep on learning after leaving formal education.

The question is whether OBE system is good or not good to meet what we want to achieve.
Curriculum Representations

The philosophy or the big ideas, visions, reasons and mission for this OBE reform were clearly discussed by Jay. Basically, these are the ideal, formal and perceived representations in any curriculum reform. I will not explain or define the terms but these phases also include the writing of curriculum materials and teacher training. Our OBE is in these phases now. This is common everywhere in any curriculum reform.

At these phases we see challenges or possible obstacles as requirements. Things we need to address in order for our big idea to materialise and produce the end result we envisioned.

Other representations in any curriculum reform are called operational, experiential and attained curriculum. These phases represent what is actually happening in the classroom. During these phases we can evaluate how the big ideas are actually translated and give us the result we envisioned. These are the phases that John provided the evidences for using examples from other countries, like PNG.

At these classroom phases the requirements can become problems if not addressed. For example, a teacher in Malaita said that they have a problem in their school because of no text books. This is a requirement that becomes a problem. There are other requirements that can become possible problems if not properly addressed.

Solomon Islands OBE

There are different forms of OBE systems used in different countries using different terms.  I will simply use the terms open and close for two kinds of OBE at the two opposite ends.

On one end, OBE is open. In this system, learners’ progress depends on how fast they learn. So the fast learners move ahead faster than the slow learners. Teachers are basically facilitators. This kind of extreme open OBE exists in few schools overseas. Those schools just provide all the facilities and resources. Then learners are expected to do their own work at their own pace using the facilities and resources. At the end they will demonstrate what they have achieved to their very few teachers.

I am inclined to think that our own indigenous ways of learning are nearer to this kind of OBE. But I think with our indigenous ways we still have some form of instruction for complex learning from those who had some experience or experts. This kind of OBE to me is as old as human existence. In fact, the documentation of OBE ideas started to take its form 500 years ago. 

On the other end, OBE is closed. There are prescribed outcomes to achieve within fixed time periods. All learners just move together. Only the learners’ reports or portfolios will show their level of achievements.

Our country’s OBE reform is more towards the closed one. I said closed because, we have fully prescribed syllabus. We have fixed time periods for learners to progress from low to the next upper level. For example, all learners just move from Form 1 to Form 2 after one academic year. It is expected that an individual learner is assisted with remedial work within the fixed time periods. I do not think that there will be any real flexibility for very slow learners or even for very fast learners to follow their own pace.

We also have compulsory high stake or external exams at different levels. Like Grade 6, Form 3, Form 5 and Form 6. The requirements needed to phase out class 6 and Form 3 exams are yet to be achieved. We also have limited spaces in our schools as we move up our education system.

Honestly, we have a very good Education Strategic Framework (ESF) since 2004. The ESF was developed in response to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG). It should correlate with the National Education Action Plan (NEAP) and Provincial Education Action Plan (PEAP). EFS clearly identified the bench marks which if properly addressed over the past years should have set a better platform for the OBE.
Some Challenges

One challenge for us now is to have a reform that is coherent or logically connected. All the components within the organisation for the OBE system should connect to and not oppose each other. For me most of the requirements like more classrooms, small class size, more resources, and more teachers with good qualifications are in the bigger level of connection.

Similarly, there should be good connection in the smaller level. One example of bad connection in the smaller level is the increased number of learning outcomes and content in year 7 (form 1) Science while the number of periods allocated is reduced. The USA call it “mile wide and an inch deep”. I was a writer with the science working group as well. I know this because I did raised some concerns.

Basically, reform in education is not simple and is more difficult in our context. The initial phases of our OBE reform have been going on for 10 years now and money has been spent. Materials like syllabus, learner’s book, teacher’s guide etc are already in the production stage. Some subject books are already used in both primary and secondary schools. We are just about to fully implement OBE.

Apart from some mismatch in some subjects like the one I exemplified earlier, the new materials are far better than before.

There was effort in aligning the different documents such as, linking and coding the syllabus to the learner’s book and teacher’s guide. I think even an untrained teacher can use the materials depending on the availability of the materials. That is if an untrained teacher uses the objective ways of teaching and assessing.

However, the tricky part is when it actually comes to teaching, learning and assessing from the materials using the ideal OBE approach, especially in the closed OBE context where most requirements are yet to be or not at all addressed.

In essence the basic learning ideas behind OBE approach are what we examine and discuss every week at the science and maths education centre for research and innovations. We discuss and critique real study results from many different individuals and government funded projects from different contexts.

The learning ideas are presented in many different terms using various forms and shapes. The studies that have positive results were conducted in classroom environments that are quite different from the Solomon Islands classrooms.

I will not touch on those kinds of classroom environments because I think John and Jay have discussed some kinds of classroom environments.

As a teacher from a third world nation I can understand John’s argument. It is a fact that even first and second world nations dropped OBE systems. Western Australia dropped OBE in 2007, South Africa in 2010. Recently, PNG had spent 160,000 Kina instead of the budgeted million to review their OBE and mapped its exit strategy. Other similar examples were highlighted by John.

My Suggestions

I will provide short, medium and long term suggestions.

As I have stated earlier, the learning ideas behind OBE is what science education embrace. In science education we are encouraged to teach the content knowledge and develop learner’s process skills with attitude to construct and apply knowledge in everyday life. 

Other countries like Singapore still use OBE. Their OBE system is quite complex, different and expensive. They call it Desired Outcomes of Education (DOE). They always produce one of the best results in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). There are about hundred countries that involve in these international learner assessments. Singapore is one of the five top countries. I will highlight some of their practices in my suggestions as well.

SHORT TERM – We basically train our teachers on how to link and use the new curriculum materials. Train teachers but allow them to use their objective approach. That is they teach and assess the content and skills as usual using the rich materials we produce for the OBE. Ensure that teachers do not just allocate activities to learners and then leave the classroom. It is very easy to do this with the new materials.

In Singapore classrooms teachers still teach their learners because their OBE is very much closed with high stake exams like ours. In fact, their learning outcomes are very specific but more like objective statements.

The five top countries in the TIMSS and PISA have this in common. Teachers still teach (not coach) for exams. They provide more directions and quality feedback and feed-forward in the classrooms. This is similar in science education. Teachers as experts must step in to avoid and clear learners misunderstanding. Some ideas cannot be discovered by learners themselves they have to be taught. Like in the UK now, teachers actually teach phonics and grapheme-phoneme correspondence then assist learners to use them in reading, speaking and writing English.

MEDIUM TERM-Make schools as communities of practice. With professional support teachers should discuss and help each other to integrate or add into their objective approach the socio-cultural constructivist ideas.

That is, for some activities teachers should practise to provide good instruction for learners to work alone or in groups to develop their skills and construct deeper understanding within the allocated period or periods.

Teachers should train to provide quality scaffolding (formative assessment) to groups or individuals. That means teachers do not give answers but guide learners to construct the answers. Teach and formatively assess the process of learning.

In Singapore, with teacher expertise such activities are encouraged and also used in their classrooms. Group work can be difficult in our classrooms of 40 to 70 learners. So one important skill for teachers in our classrooms is to provide whole-class questions or issues that will provoke learners to think and reason. Currently, most of our teachers ask questions in class that just require memory recall and yes or no responses.

We exercise learner’s brains by stretching their thinking capacity by asking them to provide quality explanations, reasons or arguments.

Support teachers on how to identify learner’s ability by using row assessment data (test results) as well as ability to provide qualitative evaluation on learner’s achievements. This is like giving constructive comments. This may be possible with 20 learners or less in a class. In this case our teachers need to put more effort in their classrooms. But there is no harm developing the skills now while waiting for small class size requirement to be addressed.

LONG TERM – 2014 is the best year to start the long term approach. First we elect the best possible leaders into parliament. We need majority of leaders who can see things more coherently and can look far into the future. So far our planning is very much fragmented. We plan one thing without realising the impact it will have on other vital components.

There are many examples, but I will not touch on them. CBSI governor clearly stated that our country is in a dilemma. So we need majority of leaders who can really understand what they talk about in the parliament and design development decisions that will benefit our people in all sectors.

Second we need to critically look at the new Education Act which will replace the 1978 Education Act. Some of our MDG for education are far from achieved. We are yet to provide access, quality and equity education to all children and adults in the Solomon Islands. Wider consultation is necessary and we should also make use of our national statistics now for future planning and critiquing.

Third, develop more relevant pre-service and in-service teacher courses on Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK). That is, teachers should have good content knowledge in their subjects. They should know how to teach and assess their subjects based on knowledge about teaching, learning and assessment, and knowledge about learners.

Fourth, aggressively address the idea of building new schools and provide resources as well as train new teachers. Provide better teacher salaries and regulate credible disciplinary guidelines. In the past years many schools were built by individuals and communities. So we should bear in mind to provide attainable regulations for individuals and communities to continue build new schools.

Finally, most western countries are looking at Singapore education system as a model. To me Singapore DOE model in simple terms provide a balance approach between objective and OBE. So we can adopt ideas that are practical for us from OBE and still use some objective approaches that are effective in our context.   

By Lionel Kakai
Curtin University in Perth
Western Australia