SCHOOL CURRICULA – TO DIVERSIFY OR NOT TO DIVERSIFY

The problem with schools in many developing countries – or so most people thought in the 1960s and 1970s – was that their curricula were not relevant. Wordsworth did not speak to village life in Tanzania. So, education in many developing countries rushed to combine prevocational courses with academic secondary school curricula to make school more relevant to work and national development goals. Such an approach seemed implicit in Tanzania’s Education for Self Reliance. Yet whether diversification was doing what it was supposed to do – broaden access to secondary schooling, hone students cognitive skills, and give graduates a head start in the job market – remained uncertain until World Rank researchers and consultants carried out studies in Colombia and Tanzania using data for 1978-82.

Dr. George Psacharopoulos subsequently wrote an article on the results of this work which Professor Honeybone bas kindly reviewed for us. An expanded paper was subsequently published as a book “Diversified Secondary Education and Development.”

When I wet Dr Psacharopoulos (who for eleven years taught at the London School of Economics) in Washington recently, be told me that he expects to publish another paper shortly (in the International Journal of Education and Development, University of Birmingham) on another subject of interest to Tanzania – a comparison of the quality of public and private schools. He indicated that, on the basis of his research, private schools tended to he better on general subjects, language and mathematics, but public schools tended to be better in technical and commercial subjects. Private schools, being cheaper to run, tended to give a defined amount of knowledge at lower cost than public schools.

Dr Kenneth King of the University of Edinburgh in a paper he prepared for the recent conference “Tanzania After Nyerere” went beyond Psacharopoolos’s work and wrote of two different traditions of diversification running side-by-side in Tanzania, one of these had usually underlined the importance of orientation to work and the educational value of industrial and agricultural work; the other was explicitly concerned with production and the need for students to experience real work. Unfortunately space does not allow us to develop further this fascinating interplay of these two different traditions of diversification. Perhaps it will be possible in the next issue of the Bulletin. In this issue we start with Professor Honeybone’s review of the original article. – Editor.

Curriculum Diversification in Colombia and Tanzania: An Evaluation by George Psacharopoulos

This article published in the Comparative Education Review (Vol 29 No 4 November l985) questions the assumptions on which the Tanzanian secondary school curriculum is based. A diversified curriculum is defined as one which includes pre-vocational elements as well as the more traditional subjects. The author, George Psacharopoulos, of the Education Department of the World Bank, recognises the different cultural, politica1 and economic backgrounds of Colombia and Tanzania and has not chosen them for direct comparative purposes. But because both countries have adopted a policy of diversification, albeit for different reasons, he uses them as the basis for an empirical investigation into his central question of whether “the outcomes of diversified education vary substantially from those of conventional secondary schooling.”

This article is a summary of the book referred to above. It is a contribution to the educational literature on what has become known unfortunately as “the vocaticsna2 school fallacy”. I write “unfortunately” as such a name suggests a built in bias against a diversified curriculum, a bias attributed by educationalists to economists who seek to evaluate a secondary school curriculum mainly on a “rate of return” basis. This is not an arid academic debate. The cost of education is obviously a very important factor in limiting the scope of education particularly in the poorer countries of the Third World. But educationalists would agree that cognitive achievement and degree of success in reaching the social and political objectives are also very important factors.

The author recognises these differences of emphasis in Tanzania and writes: “The main impetus for diversification stems from a strong sense of commitment to the ideals of work education…… Because of Tanzania’s philosophy of self reliance, students are required to gain experience in practical subjects in addition to academic pursuits by ‘majoring’ in vocational subjects.” It could be argued that he ought to have organised his investigation to discover how far secondary education has been successful in achieving “the commitment to the ideals of work education.” In fact, he identifies two “dependent variables” (a) what is learned in school and (b) what is later accomplished in post-secondary economic and further education activities,” and virtually ignores the significance of governmental policy.

Although the article is a summary of a book, it is clear that it is a very careful and well organised investigation; and the reputation of the author should guarantee that details of the questionnaires and the statistical analysis (which are not included) are of the highest order. So the conclusions which emerge from his investigation should provide useful empirical evidence for educational planners. The results from the Tanzanian pupils in the cognitive tests applied in the fourth year of secondary schooling show that in the pre-vocational subjects (agriculture, technical, and commercial) the scores in the diversified schools were only slightly higher than in the traditional schools. One would have expected them to have been markedly higher. But, surprisingly, the diversified schools were also slightly higher in mathematics. In the English tests the traditional schools were considerably higher than the diversified schools. In other words, the investigation shows that in most of the achievement tests, the Tanzanian diversified curriculum is slightly superior to the academic curriculum. This is a result which will not surprise the educationalists who have argued that pre-vocational subjects, if properly taught, can be as intellectually demanding as the more traditional (or academic) subjects; and many would carry this line of reasoning further by supporting a diversified curriculum (i.e a balanced mix of the pre-vocational and academic subjects) on the grounds that a higher proportion of the content would be more directly associated with everyday life than the traditional curriculum. The results from the Colombian schools show a superiority of the prevocational pupils (industrial, commercial, and social science) over the academic pupils in the academic as well as the pre-vocational tests. In agriculture there was no significant difference. The author sums this up as, “This implies that industrial learning was not acquired at the sacrifice of academic learning.” A biased summary? Perhaps a more accurate conclusion would be “The achievement tests show that in general the pupils from the diversified curriculum schools scored higher marks than those in the traditional (academic) schools.”

However, the main criterion from an economist’s point of view is the unit recurrent cost of secondary education. This article shows clearly that the “diversified curriculum” schools in Tanzania are more expensive to run than the “traditional” schools, and, rather less clearly, that the ‘social rate of return” is higher for the pupils from the traditional schools.

Finally the author offers some “considerations that the policymaker could confidently take into account when designing a secondary school system in developing countries.”

– Diversified curricula are more difficult to implement owing to the need for new teaching equipment and for teachers with new qualifications.
– Diversified schools are more expensive to run.
– Pupils from diversified schools are just as likely to want to proceed to university studies (and sometimes to specialised academic studies) as those from the academic schools.
– These is no evidence that a diversified curriculum improves the fit between the school and the rest of the world of work.
– Diversified curricula should not be offered by countries which provide secondary education to only a small section of the appropriate age range.

The author justifies this last statement as follows: “In this case the expansion of any type of secondary schooling will be legitimately seen by students and their families as opening the door to improved mobility, including university entrance or a start in a non-manual occupation (such as teaching). But such expansion could have been achieved by less costly means and also would not predicate the outcome of the reform,”

One wonders how the education planners in Tanzania would react to the author’s use of the word “legitimately” and how they would balance their ‚Äústrong sense of commitment to the ideals of work education” with the evidence of higher costs. The author unfortunately does not deal with this aspect although it is basic to Tanzanian policy. A pity!

Professor R. C. Honeybone

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