Tenacity and hard work: PAG foundation curriculum about to become a reality

When the ECP Unit at Fundani was approached by Prof Harry Ballard, HoD for the department of Public Administration and Governance, to assist with conceptualizing their ECP offering, little did we know we would be embarking on a 18 month-plus curriculum design and development journey. The first workshops with Prof Ballard and his ECP staff started in May/June 2016. Last week marked the final formal workshop with lecturers who will implement the new curriculum and ECP model in 2018. Throughout the process the PAG Foundation lecturing team, which is currently comprised of Megan Alexander (Year coordinator), Andre Cornelius and Robert Schultz, displayed a level of tenacity and interest essential to ensuring that the initial idealistic conceptualisations would eventually be translated into concrete curriculum and pedagogic methods and strategies.

The impetus for the renewal process was the realisation that the Extended Model used in the PAG diploma wasn’t adequately serving the needs of the ECP students. When staff conducted a detailed student profiling exercise, they soon realised that the existing curriculum was misaligned to the educational needs of students joining both the mainstream and ECP programmes. The NBT testing in March this year, confirmed this assessment and provided evidence that over 80% of students completing Business related ECP courses, including those in PAG, needed extensive and foundation support with both academic and quantitative literacies. Furthermore students  were often unsure about what it meant to be a public servant and the central role of public administration in effective and efficient government practice. Making the shift to a new curriculum model was not, however, a seamless process as lecturers were very unfamiliar with the Foundation Model, having only ever been exposed to the Extended Model. They therefore grappled with making the paradigm shift to a curriculum model that prioritizes issues of student transition (both to learning in the university and becoming familiar with the field of practice), seeks to provide foundational conceptual understanding and breaks with the content typically taught at first year level.

Once over this major ‘threshold concept’, the possibilities presented by the new curriculum model become clearer. We received much insight and guidance from colleagues in the faculties of Applied Sciences (Gert Griesel) and Informatics and Design (Amanda Morris), who have successfully been implementing the Foundation Model for years. Through a series of workshops the new PAG Foundation lecturers were also exposed to various educational theories and principles linked to curriculum design, teaching, learning and assessment approaches. These workshops offered both moments of challenge and inspiration but vitally, the whole process allowed lecturers to gain valuable experience about the complex business of curriculum design and development. Being so intimately involved in the process of designing the curriculum, also mean increased levels of ownership and commitment to the ideals and intentions captured in the curriculum. The development process also involved high levels of collaboration between the lecturers, an approach that will be carried through in the strongly integrated approach adopted for the PAG Foundation year.

Currently the team is feverishly busy with finalizing their subject guides and developing course readers for students. In the new year, they will share the overarching aims and learning objectives that underpin their new curriculum and what pedagogic and assessment strategies will guide the implementation process with their 2018 ECP cohort.

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