Curriculum Reform in Sub-Saharan Africa: When Local Meets Global

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Educational change in sub-Saharan Africa since the 1990s is a diverse and complex issue. Not only are the societies, their socio-economic and political profi les extremely varied, but heterogeneous external and internal forces have also infl uenced their trajectories of educational change. If anything can be said to bind such diverse contexts, it must include the history and impact of colonial and postcolonial endeavours. On the one hand, the legacies of colonialism continue to hold great power over the imaginary and real lives of states and citizens. On the other hand, the political transitions that swept over many parts of sub-Saharan Africa from the 1960s were accompanied over the successive decades by growing political instability, debt and poverty. The region's real GDP per head fell by 42.5% between 1980 and 1990; its income distribution has become more unequal. Although the growth rate has improved since the mid-1990s, “sub-Saharan Africa has found itself retreating economically while other developing areas of the world are advancing strongly” (Sparks, 2006). The causes are both external and internal and economic and political (see Williams, 2006; Jennings, 2006; Sparks, 2006). New education systems and especially higher education institutions were established in the immediate postcolonial period as key projects of national pride, aspiration and affi rmation. These also experienced increasingly serious diffi culties as political crisis combined with economic crisis.

In the early 1990s, the seemingly distant event of the fall of the Berlin Wall and gathering pace of globalisation also had distinct implications for Africa. Not immune from world currents, many countries in Africa held multiparty elections in the early to mid-1990s to signal commitment to liberal democracy and market openness consistent with world developments even though authoritarianism remained part of many political systems. These elections legitimated the new market orientation that had begun to take hold in the 1980s and paved the way for educational and curriculum reform, including demands for greater accountability with regard to the spending of development aid on education. They ushered in new processes for educational and curriculum reform. This article examines curricular reform, and specifi cally learner-centredness, outcomesand competency-based education and the National Qualifi cations Framework. The analysis encompasses evidence for sub-Saharan Africa, but provides a specifi c focus on Southern Africa.