Subject and curriculum changes for schools in South Africa

The Department of Basic Education (DBE) is constantly working towards aligning the curriculum to the demands of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, says minister Angie Motshekga.

Responding in a recent written parliamentary Q&A, Motshekga said that this will include the official introduction of robotics and coding, alongside other new subjects.

“Marine sciences and the occupational stream for schools of skill, special schools and mainstream are being finalised.

“School communities where robotics and coding are currently piloted have welcomed the department’s direction, which is towards improving skills,” she said.

In March, the DBE said that it will introduce entrepreneurship and employability education as part of South Africa’s school curriculum.

Motshekga said that the initiative is being driven by president Cyril Ramaphosa and will officially form part of the curriculum by 2024.

“In every grade level the existing curriculum – including economics, management systems and life orientation – is being enriched with real-life projects that are learner-centred (and include entrepreneurship opportunities),” she said.

“From 2020 – 2024 there will be trials in 600 schools, and we will have rolled out the entire curriculum by 2023 – 2024.”

The president has previously emphasised the importance of South Africans embracing a culture of entrepreneurship as the country aims to attract R1.2 trillion in investment over five years.

“We must look at what needs to be done to promote and encourage the entrepreneurial spirit and entrepreneurial culture. I have long said that entrepreneurial skills should be included in the basic education curriculum,” he said.


Motshekga said that government has consistently updated the curriculum to meet the needs of students and in line with expert opinion.

“Since 1998, there have been several waves of curriculum reform in South Africa as we moved from the old curriculum inherited in 1994 to curriculum 2005, to the National Curriculum Statement, which in turn has been revised several times.

“Throughout this time, curriculum reforms have been based on substantial research and the work of a wide range of curriculum experts.”

Motshekga said that much of the curriculum research being done by scholars across the country, some of which is in collaboration with the DBE, is focused on specific subjects, phases or even topics and pedagogical approaches in the curriculum.

It is important to understand curriculum research in this way, as focused in its application on specific subjects, phases and topics, rather than in the first place being seen as an overall government system or policy, she said.

“The challenges experienced in mathematics in the FET phase may, for instance, be very different from those experienced in Foundation Phase Home language literacy, and may therefore require a completely different type of curriculum revision.

“This work done by external researchers, done through work commissioned by the DBE or done by entities like Umalusi, continues to feed into curriculum revisions.”

Changes to how the curriculum is presented

Although more research is needed on how to achieve better delivery of the curriculum, there is also research into alternative approaches to parts of the existing curriculum, said Motshekga.

She cited the example of the new ‘mother tongue-based bilingual education pilot’ being run by the Eastern Cape Department of Education.

This project is piloting the use of mother-tongue instruction (isiXhosa in this case) beyond the foundation phase. Based on the experience with this pilot the department is eager to explore the possibility of encouraging mother-tongue instruction in grades beyond the foundation phase.

“Although such an approach would not really be in conflict with the existing curriculum, it is not a widespread practice in our schools and a supportive environment would need to be created to facilitate the widespread adoption of this approach.

“The Incremental Introduction of African Languages Policy is another example of a new policy, which is being introduced while informed by research, so as to reform the curriculum,” she said.

Impact of Covid-19 

While Motshekga’s response is primarily focused on long-term subject and curriculum changes planned for the country’s schools, a directive published on Tuesday (23 June) notes that South African schools will also use ”curriculum trimming’ to make up time lost during the lockdown.

To accommodate the teaching time lost as a result of the national state of disaster and the adjustment of timetables, the national curriculum has been reviewed by the Department of Basic Education.

The revised content phase map, which contains a broad overview of the curriculum content, including skills, knowledge, attitudes and values learners would be exposed to over a three year period, as well as the revised annual teaching plans and curriculum support guidelines, are accessible on the website of the Department of Basic Education here.

Read: Updated lockdown rules for South African schools – including matric exams, return to hostels and more

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Subject and curriculum changes for schools in South Africa