This exposition will explore some of the major benefits of an adaptive approach to curriculum implementation in Zimbabwe, as a pose to an adoptive approach, namely increased professional autonomy and creative freedom for teachers, relevance to learner demographics and a wholesome learning experience. Considerations will also be made of the constraints of such an approach, chiefly the issue of resource intensity, accountability and control. It will also outline the applicability of an adoptive approach, in Zimbabwe’s examination oriented educational system, where homogeneity of delivery at the peripheral level is of essence. A curriculum provides the framework for how and when to teach what.
McKimm (2007) suggests, the curriculum defines learning outcomes, timetables, content, appropriate teaching methods and assessment instruments. Materials such as teacher’s guides, recommended text books and syllabi for each subject all form part of the curriculum package. In the Zimbabwean context, the curriculum package is arranged by the centre, called the Central Curriculum Development Unit (CDU). The CDU prepares and distributes the curriculum package to the various provinces via the district office to the schools. Taking the curriculum as a proposal is like using it as a prop on the stage, it’s a mere accessory, and it accentuates the core theme of the story.
It gives the setting while the actual script is in the hands of the director and cast who are the teacher and the learners respectively. In this case, modifications can be made to suit the geographical and social location of the learners. While a prescriptive approach implies the curriculum package is a script which is to be aped word for word and gesture by gesture, mimicking the demands of the examination. A prescription enforces rules about how a subject should be taught as such the teacher is like a drill sergeant implementing objectives in finite timeframes.
To begin with, Ndawi and Maravanyika (2011), “argue that education and human experiences are too wide and too complex to be reduced down to specifiable and measurable objectives.” From this tenet, one can contend that when a curriculum package is used as a recommendation rather than dogma the teacher can regard every exchange as an opportunity for learning to occur, even when tacitly expressed in the curriculum package. Using this approach, the teacher is limited neither by explicit goals nor by resources, which are sometimes in short supply in resettlement schools, but rather empowered to incorporate innovative tactics, rich creativity and a wholesome range of experiences into his instruction.
The product is a well-rounded and adaptable member of the wider society. By contrast having a prescribed curriculum, with exacted and measurable goals, unambiguous methods, specified teaching aids and finite timeframes, is a motivating factor for teachers in the Zimbabwean context where incentives inspire those whose pupils attain a certain level of academic prowess, measured strictly through structured examinations. Thus, it can be said that the system rewards homogeneity more than heterogeneity.
What Lawton (1980) terms ‘…teacher’s legitimate desire for professional autonomy…’ has been motivated by the pronouncement by the Zimbabwean ministry of education to develop the standard of the teaching fraternity by awarding degreed teachers with job security and a disparate pay scale from that of their diploma holder counterparts. This trend of empowerment and upward mobility can sustain a proposal based approach, which requires highly trained and resourceful teachers. To this end, it is advantageous to approach the curriculum package as a suggested plan of action or recommendation, as it fulfills the teacher’s need to express his ingenuity and self actualise.
On the contrary, this adaptive approach can be resource intensive. It takes expertise to enforce variations in curriculum delivery, and training this highly skilled manpower may not be financially feasible for the ministry of education. Where teachers are minimally trained or untrained as in the case of temporary teachers in Zimbabwe, the prescriptive slant tends to be enormously helpful as it defines exactly what to teach, when to teach it and how it should be taught. Textbooks and teacher’s guide explicitly state procedure.
The Indian National Council of Educational Research and Training (2006) asserts, “…diversity of languages, social customs, manners, mores and uneven economic development, the needs and demands of individuals and society will have differential pulls on the school curriculum, varying from one region to the other.” Similarly, in Zimbabwe an adaptive approach can cater for the range of abilities, tribal nuances and economic strata found in any school community or classroom. In this light, the teacher is given room to improvise using locally available material, from the community’s culture and landscape, to suit learner demographics, thus the learning experience becomes socially relevant, meaningful and learners gain a sense of ownership of their education.
Adversely, Lawton (1980), in this statement, “…secondary-modern-school curricula, often lacked structure and purpose”, alludes to the unconstructiveness, that can be generated by a laissez-faire approach to curriculum interpretation, where teachers have extensive flexibility to manipulate their instruction to suit the demographics of their community rather than the universal values which may be tested at Grade 7, O’ Level and A’ Level examinations.
The prescriptive approach to curriculum implementation satisfies the“…political need for some kind of system of accountability…” Lawton (1980), as in the Zimbabwean case where there are considerably more state funded rural day schools than there are independent ones. When the prescriptive approach is unequivocally applied, teachers can account for their time and the resources the state has invested in the system by way of mid and end of term and final examinations, whereas, hybrid varieties of curriculum are more complex to control, monitor and assess. Delivery problems can be easily diagnosed and corrected. Again, variations may tend to be too localized, producing a breed of learners with limited regional or international marketability in this era of globalization and the information boom. In a subject like science and mathematics there is not much scope for local variations and the adoption of common textbooks in all parts of the country is feasible.
Eunitah et al (2013) imply that, in developing socialist educational contexts like Zimbabwe, it is premature to do away with centrally prescribed curricula in order to accomplish uniformity in the provision of education. This uniformity means, all students in Zimbabwe use standardized learning material and receive a standard educational experience. When a student transfers from a rural to an urban school, as is the trend in developing countries, he has the assurance of continuity. Thus, the prescriptive approach to curriculum implementation achieves meritocracy and functionality.
Moreover, the Zimbabwean curriculum pays more attention to acquired skills that can be measured; it is largely objectives oriented, in that learning outcomes are evaluated through summative examinations, from time to time. To this end, a prescriptive approach is more effective, as it provides exact standards and expectations of the learner while limiting deviations which may otherwise be of no relevance to the learner, come examination time. Lawton (1980) points out the love-hate relationship teachers may have with the examination system, though meritocratic and fair it can extend so far into the classroom that it stifles independent thinking, self-discovery, curiosity and creativity, which form part of wholesome learning.
It can be concluded that while taking the curriculum package as a proposal, encourages a broader range of experiences and an expansive exercise of potentialities in learners due to its adaptability to various geographical and economic circumstances as is found in Zimbabwe. The prescriptive approach is equally beneficial and perhaps more applicable to Zimbabwe because of the nature of the education system which is examination oriented.