The story of a physiclal science curriculum: transformation or transmutation?

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African Journal of Research in Mathematics Science and Technology Education

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Taylor & Francis


University of Cape Town

Recently Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS) were introduced in South Africa in response to confusion precipitated by previous curriculum documents. The purpose of this paper is to explore that confusion in the subject 'Physical Sciences' and consider the nature of the transformation from the previous curriculum by looking at curriculum documents and examination papers. We present a two phase curriculum change model which suggests that congruency between curriculum documents and examinations is critical for effective curriculum change. We analyse the pre-CAPS curriculum, the National Curriculum Statement (NCS), on its own terms by using the stated outcomes as our reference point. Our analysis reveals that the weighting and conceptualization of the outcomes shifted through successive documents, which undermined congruency between the documents and meant that content-oriented science masqueraded as inquiry-oriented science. This led to a retreat from the original vision of weighting skills and relevance equally with content. The examinations took this retreat a step further. Evidence of the retreat is that the nature of the questions asked in the 2008 examinations on the NCS was similar to that of the 2007 examinations on the previous curriculum which had not changed since apartheid. However, in the NCS examinations there was a small shift towards contextualisation and inquiry oriented science. The retreat means the vision of transformation which was the rationale for the NCS curriculum was eroded – instead of transformation, there was transmutation back to the old apartheid curriculum. The Physical Sciences CAPS cements the retreat and creates new confusion by changing the syllabus again without signposting the change.

This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in African Journal of Research in Mathematics, Science and Technology Education on 20 Aug 2013, available online: