Outcomes Based Education

No-one gets more space in The Australian on education than Education Strategies zealot Kevin Donnelly who has most of p19 of the ‘Inquirer’ section this morning railing against outcomes-based education and providing readers with his very own handy guide to ‘Marks for Your School’ (below) against four key criteria:

Detailed: how specific is the curriculum, Unambiguous: Does the curriculum have clear goals?, Measurable: Does the curriculum measure how a child is progressing? and Academic Content: is the curriculum preparing students for the future?

These seem fair enough; isn’t what we would want in curriculum? Even if we might argue whether Donnelly’s simple table actually represents those things (Donnelly loves league tables; he’d be king of the spreadsheet!

Or does it? Academic content=preparing students for the future? Is this the empty vessel thinking; fill ’em up with content and let ’em go? And what about the skills to actually develop their own learning further and other futures apart from the academic institute?

Detailed and specific = good curriculum? So where is the flexibility for curriculum to respond to the needs of the actual students in front of the teacher,

I’ve got no problems with unambiguous and measurable as good concepts, but I doubt whether I’d agree with Donnelly on a definition of them.

Donnelly’s article itself reveals as much of his own personal and political agenda as it does about ‘outcomes’.

Reports that aren’t A to E are ‘vague and feel-good’ (because B is absolutely crystal clear to everyone), students should study ‘great pieces of literature’ (no doubt Donnelly has a spreadsheet list of these to give to Howard when it’s called for. I have a list too; I wonder if they match?),

Outcomes-based education (OBE) is ‘dumbed down’ and ‘politically correct’ and has allowed ‘standards’ to fall.  Attitudes, dispositions and values such as ‘inclusivity, collaboration and partnership’ are ‘new age’ according to Donnelly, presumably to be ranked alongside crystals and speaking to dolphins!

For Donnelly, good curriculum is grounded in ‘traditional subjects’ and ‘clear and succinct road maps’ and though he does agree to the belief that a balanced approach between OBE and an academic syllabus, the strongest part of his whole article for me was his quoting of American educator William Spandy on ‘transformational outcomes-based education’: ‘it focuses on students’ lifelong adaptive capacities’. That resonated for me.

For the record, Wikipedia has a fairly critical article on OBE here