Worried about outcomes based education?

09 Dec

Following a story in today’s Australian, I have posted a rant on the subject, Pop songs are weird science — The Australian , on Lines from a Floating Life. Having read a comment there, and its associated blog, I added to the post. I now place those theses here too.

1. Outcomes-based education has nothing at all to do with seeing the teacher as a “facilitator”; in fact the reverse is true, as OBE insists that teachers actually teach and holds them accountable for what students can actually do at the end of the process. The woolly idea of “facilitating” is 1970s feel-good stuff; OBE is hard-headed post-Thatcherite “quality assurance”.

2. OBE has nothing to do with the teacher as “entertainer”.

3. OBE is not a left-wing plot; initially it was more probably a right-wing plot. See Jim Belshaw, “Changes in Public Administration – the New Zealand Model”.

4. OBE does not predicate any particular style of teaching, traditional or otherwise.

5. OBE does not cause the curriculum to become less traditional. You can have an OBE course in Latin which will differ from Latin as taught in 1955 only in the way the program specifies what students must be able to do in Latin after a unit of work and then tests that they are in fact able to use those bits of Latin — in other words, will have achieved/not achieved outcomes. Any variation in the way Latin might now be taught in 2006 comes from changes in language teaching from a whole range of influences, many of them actually well considered.

6. OBE has nothing to do with the rejection of the pass/fail mentality. It is at least 30 years, long before OBE, since anyone passed or failed the NSW Higher School Certificate. What the candidate gets is a result and a rank which may be good enough to open certain doors or not.

7. In good well-written outcomes reporting parents get a plain English description of what their children have been assessed as actually achieving. This may or may not be accompanied by a letter and/or a number, the semantic content of which is, and always has been, a great mystery. At least a clear statement of outcomes has some meaning, even if it may make comparing your child with Susie next door a little more difficult.

8. The fact there is so much confusion about OBE (whether it is desirable or not is a separate matter) is the result of illiteracy on the subject perpetrated by the media and certain commentators who really should know better.

The main down-side of OBE, from a teacher’s point of view, is that it makes the teacher only too conscious of his or her success or failure as a teacher, with the proviso, of course, that is it absurd to expect all students from IQ too low to assess on the one hand (and I have taught such) to bloody genius on the other (and I have taught them too, if “teach” is the right word then) to achieve identical outcomes. Needless to say, no curriculum makes such an absurd assumption, but the general public often seem to.

A second down-side, which will not attract much sympathy, is that it makes programming and lesson planning more rigorous and onerous. No longer can we just write down the name of the text studied and vague wish lists.

A third possible down-side, and one which worried good English teachers a great deal, is that “outcomes” which can’t easily be defined or measured, such as “enjoyment of poetry”, might be squeezed out of the course in favour of what can be defined. I feared this, but it does not seem to have happened.

A fourth problem with OBE is that the number of real outcomes any given unit of work may have could well be legion; what appears on the program is a selection arrived at during the planning stage of that unit. On the other hand, when one considers the sum of units taught in a year, having to determine outcomes for each unit does at least offer some guarantee that the year’s work has targeted a range of things it is hoped students will master. In the past where the emphasis was on the content of the course rather than on what students might be able to do it was more likely that the program might become unbalanced.

Read Professor Roy Killen, “OUTCOMES-BASED EDUCATION: PRINCIPLES AND POSSIBILITIES” and then believe very little of what passes for “knowledge” on the subject through the media.

See also for richer models of teaching Quality Education in NSW which includes but takes us beyond OBE and further from the more dreamily romantic or hippie-like aspects of “progressive education”, and my post on scaffolding.

Yes, I get frustrated… ;)


Further to this post, see, mostly on New Lines from a Floating Life:

  • HSC English Paper 2 Advanced 2006 03Nov06.
  • Julie Bishop’s third-hand knowledge of English teaching 08Oct06.
  • Three magazines and an amazing AIDS story… 11Jul06.
  • Right-wing non-news story #20563 10Jun06.
  • Dumbed down syllabuses 30Apr06.
  • My past catches up 25Apr06.
  • Reactionary myth-makers and education 22Apr06.
  • Literacy.
  • And just one item from my old blog on Blogspot (if you can see it):

  • History debate rages over loss of narrative – Top stories – Breaking News 24/7 –
  • See too Jim Belshaw’s kind response. That blog of his is a goldmine of background information on public administration, very revealing on the broader context from which current administrative approaches to accountability in education have sprung.

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    Posted by on December 9, 2006 in pedagogy


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