In 1990, South Africa regarded Outcome Based Education (OBE) as its preferential educational paradigm, and designed Curriculum 2005. The South African Department of Education was very influenced by William Spady — an American proponent of OBE, who visited South Africa as a consultant on the issue. The National Qualification Framework went into effect in 1997 with great expectations, but these expectations were not met. It became evident even to the most vocal OBE-proponents that the educational approach gave inculcate skills not conducive to pursue any university education in mathematics and science. Since then, the curriculum underwent several corrections, and now is at stage of Curriculum Schooling 2025. Meanwhile, William Spady distanced himself from the South African version of OBE, describing it as a professional embarrassment:
“So now, with a decade of confusion about OBE behind us, I would encourage my South African colleagues to stop referring to OBE in any form. It never existed in 1997, and has only faded farther from the scene since. The real issue facing the country is to mobilize behind educational practice that is sound and makes a significant difference in the lives of ALL South African learners. Empty labels and flowery rhetoric are no longer needed; but principled thinking and constructive action are.”
Educational experts may argue whether it was Outcome Based Education, or some kind of Education Based on Outcomes. These experts may further argue on the terminology, but the fact remains it was supposed to be transformational OBE. A close look at their mathematics curriculum reveals that it is not so different from the proposed new Learning Outcomes Framework (LOF) for school mathematics in Malta, and in some aspects is even better. What is however completely identical in both is the educational utopia of outcomes coming from nowhere.
Essential mathematical skills are not just about a computational answer, for it is not the answer that is of the greatest importance to school children’s mathematical development. Rather it is children’s ability to apprehend mathematics as a conceptual system. Many education systems are emphasising on this, here is an excerpt from the Secondary Mathematics Syllabuses in Singapore:
“Although students should become competent in the various mathematical skills, over-emphasising procedural skills without understanding the underlying mathematical principles should be avoided… Students should develop and explore the mathematics ideas in depth, and see that mathematics is an integrated whole, not merely isolated pieces of knowledge.”
Unfortunately, in Malta’s case the design falls far short of such goals. Here is an example from level 5:
(COGNITIVE LEARNING) 16. I understand that multiplication is repeated addition.
Accordingly, a factor can only be added to itself a counting number of times. In Singapore’s Primary Mathematics Syllabus, multiplication and division are conceptualised gradually, and still on that level are introduced area and various square units. In contrast, square units are not present in Malta’s LOF for school mathematics. In fact, the proposed LOF is teeming with conceptual deficiencies. For instance, there is some kind of misconception between “equation” and “function”. Equations were never related to unknown variables, while functions are assumed to be somehow equations between the variables “x” and “y“. Use of radian measurement is not present, but learners are supposed to “plot graphs of trigonometric functions”.
Perhaps, Malta can learn from Singapore’s remarkable success since independence and the policies underlying its achievements in mathematical education.