Title page for ETD etd-09072004-130205

Document Type Doctoral Thesis
Author Stoffels, Newton Trevor
Email newton.stoffels@up.ac.za
URN etd-09072004-130205
Document Title Sir, on what page is the answer? Exploring teacher decision-making in the context of complex curriculum change
Degree PhD (Education)
Department Education Management and Policy Studies
Advisor Name Title
Prof J Jansen
  • education policy implementation
  • curriculum change
  • Curriculum 2005
  • Outcomes-based Education
  • teacher decision-making
  • comparative case-study
  • intensification
  • teaching materials
Date 2004-08-10
Availability unrestricted
This study, based on a sustained, qualitative investigation into the instructional decision-making of three Grade Nine Natural Science teachers, addresses the dichotomy between policy and practice in the post-apartheid South African context. The main research questions that guided this study were:

1. How do secondary school teachers understand the critical differences between the traditional curriculum, the new outcomes-based curriculum and the revised version of this new curriculum?

2. Why and how do these teachers make strategic curriculum decisions at the interface of the three curricula in their classrooms?

A comparative case study approach was taken, during which evidence of what the science teachers were doing in their classes was collected through prolonged, non-participant classroom observation of close to 30 lessons each. Insight into the rationale behind their practices, i.e. their pre-active and interactive decision-making, was gleaned from intensive pre-lesson and post-lesson interviews. The video-recording lessons were played back to them for stimulated recall of their interactive thinking and decision-making. Together with biographical interviews, teacher diaries, and the researcher’s field-notes, these instruments helped get a sense of the mechanics and dynamics of how these two science teachers make planning, teaching and assessment decisions in the fluidity of the present curriculum habitat in South Africa.

The main finding from this study is that teachers do not make extensive use of their considerable decision-making space; I characterize this phenomenon as passivity in decision-making. It was found, further, that a number of decision-making frame factors have a bearing on teachers’ tendency to abdicate their decision-making authority; However, an unexpected finding was the extent to which the commercially prepared ‘outcomes-based’ learning support material shapes what happens in science classrooms.

In theorizing teachers’ passivity-in-decision-making during complex curriculum change, I draw on and extend the scholarship on the intensification of teachers’ work, by arguing that South African teacher essentially cede their decision-making authority to ‘outcomes-based’ texts, in order to cope with the overwhelming and multiple threats of intensification of their work. The evidence in this study demonstrate that the veritable threats of intensification of teachers’ work, which typically accompany radical curriculum change in developing countries, stifles teachers’ opportunities to bridge the gap between policy and practice.

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