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Curriculum Redevelopment
Monday, 29 August 2011 Written by Doug Shaw

Curriculum RedevelopmentI have come to Kivumu for the next two months to help out with the carpentry program and to provide instructor skills training for CFJ’s staff. During the other 10 months of the year I work as a carpentry and woodworking instructor out of Olds College in Canada. I am a certified carpenter and also have a university degree in vocational education.

One of the goals I have set for myself this summer is to help redesign the curriculum for the two year carpentry program. The old curriculum had been loosely translated from French materials and was not entirely appropriate for Rwanda.

Working with the carpentry staff I am attempting to develop a curriculum that is appropriate, based upon clearly defined performance objectives, and that will be challenging, yet hopefully attainable.

In theory this is not too difficult. One usually starts with an industry-based needs assessment to create an occupational analysis by surveying employers and self-employed tradesmen. From this you would produce an occupational profile, course outlines, perform task analyses, and then start to produce instructional material. It is quite a time consuming and costly affair to do a “professional” analysis and would be equal to the total cost of keeping the school open for about 6 months. Developing supporting instructional material would more than double that cost. Obviously we need to proceed upon another route.

From my observations vocational education in Rwanda needs a paradigm shift. At present it is very greatly instructor centred. As a result, instructors, who generally are dedicated, teach what they have been trained to do. As a result virtually the same things are taught and the same five or six items are produced at every trade school throughout East and Central Africa. These items and the course content may well have been entirely appropriate at one time but are often ill suited for today’s reality.

One of the problems with the instructor centred approach is that it is reliant on rote memorization of “facts” provided by the instructor. When we were children in primary school we often played a game called “Telegraph”. One person would whisper a sentence to another student who in term whispered to another, and so on. By the time the message made it to the end of the line the message was distorted, parts forgotten, and only rarely bore any resemblance to the original. At the very best, all an instructor centred system can hope to achieve is stagnation.

With a learner centred emphasis the focus now is “What does the student need in order to be successful in the workplace”. The purpose is not to try to train students to make chairs or tables but rather to teach them how to make a living by making things out of wood. As the sole purpose of vocational education is to make the student employable in an occupational area, the teacher becomes a facilitator and needs input as to local industry needs and local entrepreneurial opportunities. The emphasis also shifts from “knowing” to “doing” and the amount of “knowledge” given to the student is based upon what the student needs to know in order to perform that task in an occupational setting.

Needless to say this makes curriculum development on the cheap both challenging and exciting.

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