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CHAPTER THREE A responsive curriculum and its impact on higher education learning opportunities


The South African higher educational landscape has changed dramatically in recent decades. Old demarcations (such as the binary divide in HE, mentioned in Chapter 2) have been broken down between traditional universities and other post-secondary education institutions’ programmes (Department of Higher Education and Training, 2012; Luckett, 2011; Brint, 2002; Gibbons, 1994).
Twenty one years after the change into a democratic government in South Africa it is the accurate time to review what has been achieved in HE as a result of the direct and indirect influence of new policies put in place to transform the HE system in South Africa and to make the system more responsive to the needs of society (CHE, 2013). The Department of Education released the Education White Paper 3, 2007; the Higher Education Act of 1997 was approved and a National Development Plan 2013 was developed. All these documents contributed towards ensuring that HE plays its role in the reconstruction and development of South African society (Human-Hendricks, 2014).
The previous chapter provided an overview of HE challenges, internal and external challenges influencing HEI’s curriculum reform in particular. Following on the influences of the internal and external challenges on the curriculum reform, this chapter’s approach will be to explain what a responsive curriculum is (building on curriculum reform) and its impact on HE learning opportunities. The latter is important as it will provide clear definitions with regards to the curriculum, responsiveness or a responsive curriculum and the optimisation of learning.
Du Preez and Simmonds (2014:1) and Karseth (2006) argue that a curriculum as a field of study has not yet played a central role in the research literature on HE. In contrast, academics traditionally regarded the curriculum in HE as internal or even a private matter. Azzi, Chika and Haynes (2007) regard the curriculum as more than the aims and the syllabus of education and pedagogy and include the paradigm of teaching and learning. This educational paradigm (see Fig.3.1) is all about considering the total learning experience of the student (Azzi et al, 2007:36). Azzi et al (2007) and Asmal (2003) mention that specific indicators (inputs, access and outputs) and parameters (assessment and accountability) need to be put in place to ensure that the  intended learning outcomes are achieved. These indicators and parameters are evaluated and the results embedded in improvements to the learning environment of current and future students. The following diagram illustrates the abovementioned.

Source: Azzi et al (2007)*

In addition to the abovementioned, El-Khawas (2007:241-248) argues that the learning environment of a student is also shaped by curricular influences (course taken, major fields), formal instructional experiences (type and quality of instruction, interaction with faculty in class), out-of-class experiences (peer-relations, informal interaction faculty) and characteristics of the institution (mission, size, selectivity, culture). Programs need to be responsive and adaptive to these factors (Azzi et al, 2007). HE curricula are further faced with some very practical as well as philosophically grounded questions as to what selection of knowledge should be represented in the university and how that should be constructed epistemologically and from the perspective of the students (Haldane, 2004:14).
The following contemporary competing epistemological pressures such as deconstruction of the module, flexible patterns of study and the incorporation of the five Critical Crossfield Outcomes (CCFO’s) on the HE curriculum are considered by Bridges (2000:41) and the CHE (2013). The deconstruction of the module (modularisation of the curriculum) means that the creation of small units of knowledge and almost infinite number of ways in which they can be assembled encourages analysis of the scope and nature of knowledge. However, once knowledge has been deconstructed the essential quality of the qualification becomes apparent. More flexible patterns of study allows students to accumulate credit for courses successfully completed over a period of time which suited their personal circumstances and by extension to assemble credits for modules taken at different institutions (Bridges, 2000). The incorporation of the first five CCFO’s as developed for the context of the South African NQF into the refined descriptors (see Chapter 2, table 2.4) is another epistemological pressure. It is expected that the CCFO’s be contextualised and demonstrated in the qualification outcomes developed from these generic descriptors (CHE, 2013).
These pressures for change disturbed the traditional HE curriculum in several different ways. The ways in which the curriculum is disturbed is that the curriculum appears to offer a different philosophical orientation (Pityana, 2009). What is meant by the latter is that it is suggested that the rationale of the curriculum is derived significantly from the needs of the national economy as defined by employers rather than from some ideal of a liberal education or as an expression of a set of scholarly values constructed independently of any notion of economic functionality. The Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals (1999:39) in a paper on HE in the 21st century, established that there are a few possible features to be observed with regards to the pressures on the curricula in HE. The first feature of the HEIs curricula to be observed is that HEIs have been given a mandate to aid economic competitiveness and promote social inclusion (Pityana, 2009). How far these principles of economic competitiveness and liberal education are really in opposition to each other (and whether indeed the curriculum of HEIs has ever stood so entirely independent of the employment requirements of the upper middle classes) are matters for interesting and important debate (Pityana, 2009).
The second feature of the HEIs curricula, relates to the teaching of essential skills and the employability of graduates (Pityana, 2009). HEIs are faced with choices as to whether they see some or all of these skills (skills such as computer skills, research skills, communication skills, critical thinking skills, and team work) been effectively taught in their faculties or developed as part of an integrated module programme or as something apart from the subject teaching in specialised essential skills programmes (DHET, 2012). The implication of teaching these skills could have different resource implications. For instance, if a HEI decides that the abovementioned skills should be taught outside subject departments, then resources will shift from those departments and a new type of university teacher will emerge more akin to those who operate in the field of skills training than to traditional research-based teaching (DHET, 2012). If they are to be taught inside the departments, then this will require the development of new capacities among traditional teaching staff and new approaches to their teaching (National Development Plan, 2013). The third feature of the HEIs curricula relates to a different kind of knowledge, it shifts the balance from understanding to skill, from knowing that to knowing how and more particularly to the application of knowledge in a social context and in so doing raises of course complex questions about its assessment (DHET, 2012; Mkhonto, 2007). The last feature to be observed is that the focus and mandate of curricula at HEIs will have to change to accommodate the development of experiential learning, including workplace learning as part of the HEI’s curricula (CHE, 2013). The latter challenges the role of academics as the constructors and guardians of a specialised form of articulated knowledge, not derived from a book but from experience. The DHET (2012) concurs with the latter and mentions that HEIs recognise and acknowledge that knowledge derived from outside the academy threaten their own privileged position of authority in its construction of the curriculum. Thus as the language of competence, skills development and capability enters the HE frame, it is important to focus on what the nature of the curriculum should be.
In the following section and against the background of needed change to the curricula of HEIs, it is necessary to introduce the notion of a responsive curriculum, the theoretical frameworks for a responsive curriculum design, approaches to learning and optimisation of learning which might assist in addressing the abovementioned demands.

Defining a responsive curriculum

In the aftermath of apartheid and apartheid education, South African HEIs are exploring ways in which they can make their curricula more responsive to the needs of under prepared students (Shalem & Slonimsky, 2006:3). In 1996 the National Commission on Higher Education (NCHE) explicitly spelled out a requirement for “heightened responsiveness within HEIs to societal interests and needs”, which were conceived as arising from “social, cultural, political and economic changes”. Therefore, the NCHE (1996) describes a responsive curriculum as “incorporation of the multiple voices of an increasingly diverse student body, industry and society into governance structures, research and teaching priorities of universities”.
Moll (2011:3) writes that the immediate appeal of the concept “curriculum responsiveness is that it promises some positively formulated benchmarks against which we might be able to judge whether our education programmes are meeting the needs of transforming society. One is aware of this in relation to recent policy research in South Africa, where it has been used frequently in debates on further education and training (FET) and on HE”. According to Ekong and Cloete (1997), responsive curriculum was employed initially in 1997 as one of the changes to a national and global environment in an African context. It was also articulated systematically for the first time by Dowling and Seepe (2004) in relation to the “need to ensure that the African experience is at the core of the curricula” and by Gamble (2003) in her work on the transformation of the FET colleges. At an epistemological level, increased responsiveness entails a shift from closed knowledge systems (controlled and driven by canonical norms of traditional disciplines) to more open knowledge systems in dynamic interaction with external social interests, consumer or client demand and other processes of knowledge (NCHE, 1996:4).
Other studies, as well as more informal accounts from a wide spectrum of lecturers point to a common pattern in the ways that students who were under-prepared for university studies by their schooling tend to approach texts and epistemic practices when they first engage in university study (Butler, 2010). With students not prepared for university, it becomes important to understand how the curriculum can be employed so that the students can respond to it and be successful in their learning (Bertram, 2006). Before the latter can be addressed there needs to be a clear understanding of what is meant by a responsive curriculum. Although some academics have been working towards developing a responsive curriculum for decades, equity and social justice goals have received new impetus and higher educational management sanction because of the push towards globalisation (Manathunga, 2011:1). In the following paragraphs a responsive curriculum will be defined and the characteristics of responsiveness will also be included.
Manathunga (2011:1) defines a responsive curriculum as a reflective approach to teacher education, where students and the teaching team would be encouraged to “reopen their own backgrounds”. According to Moll (2011:3) literature suggests a number of ways that the concept of a responsive curriculum can be interpreted. The ways of interpreting a responsive curriculum according to Moll (2011) is to consider the economic responsiveness, the cultural responsiveness, disciplinary responsiveness and learning responsiveness of the curriculum. Curriculum responsiveness denotes the ability of teaching and learning in HEI to meet the changing needs of employers and hence to provide them with personnel who will be able to increase their economic competitiveness. The notion of cultural responsiveness has a dual purpose: it relates both to the students and the work of academics and in the way they articulate and research their own knowledge disciplines (Moll, 2011).

1.1 Introduction
1.2 Background and motivation for the study
1.3 Problem statement
1.4 Aims of the research
1.5 The research process
1.6 Limitations of the study
1.7 Clarification of concepts
1.8 Demarcation of the research
1.9 An overview of the study
1.10 Summary
2.1 Introduction
2.2 Historical overview of the higher educational landscape in South Africa
2.3 Internal and external challenges which influences higher education since 1994
2.4 Factors shaping and influencing higher educational curricula
2.5 A single framework for change: higher educational qualifications subframework (HEQSF
2.6 Outcomes-based education as a higher educational philosophy
2.7 Curricula in the Department of Informatics in the Faculty of ICT at the Tshwane University of Technology
2.8 Summary
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Defining a responsive curriculum
3.3 Theoretical frameworks for a responsive curriculum design
3.4 Definition of learning and approaches to learning
3.5 Optimisation of learning
3.6 Models of curriculum development
3.7 Summary
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Research paradigm
4.3 Research design
4.4 Research methodology
4.5 The research methods
4.6 Data analysis
4.7 Data verification
4.8 D a t a v e rification strategies
4.9 Ethical considerations
4.11 Summary
5.1 Introduction
5.2 Research questions
5.3 The data collection process
5.4 Overall rate of participation
5.5 Findings and discussion of the semi-structured interviews of the lecturers
5.6 Findings and discussion of the semi-structured interviews of the Diploma students
5.7 Findings and discussion of the semi-structured interviews of the BTECH students
5.8 Analysis of the documents
5.9 Summary
6.1 Introduction
6.2 Chapter summary
6.3 Verification of research questions
6.4 Concluding remarks
6.5 Recommendations of the study
6.6 Recommendation: A responsive curriculum development model
6.7 Strengths of the research
6.8 Summary

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