Suriname: a new basic education curriculum

Where is Suriname?

Suriname is a republic in the Northeast of the Latin American continent. The population of roughly 540,000 inhabitants consists of large populations of creoles, Javanese, Indians and smaller populations of local tribes, Chinese and others. The official language is Dutch, but Sranan, Javanese, Sarnami, Aucan, Sarramacan, Chinese, indigenous languages and many other languages are actively spoken.

SLO in Suriname

suriname1.jpgSLO has been actively participating in the development of the Surinamese basic education curriculum from 2008 until 2012. Our work consisted of activities supporting the complete range of curriculum development activities, such as establishing a curriculum framework, learning strands for the full basic education cycle, teaching and learning materials, implementing activities including professional development and evaluative activities.

The Surinamese basic education improvement project

Since 2004, Suriname has been working towards a high-quality basic education curriculum. Inspired by the Education for All (EFA) goals, Suriname has decided to expand compulsory education from 7-12 years old to all children between the age of 4 and 15. At the same time, the project aims to improve education results and outcomes. Several studies show that both the content and pedagogy of the Surinamese curriculum are outdated, the content is not thoroughly structured, the multi-lingual disposition is a major cause for student failure and elementary mathematics is neglected. Dropout and repetition rates are significantly higher than most countries in the region. National exams results are low, for lower secondary around 50-60%. Future education is envisaged to become more activating and inquiry-based, with more attention for acquisition of language and mathematical skills. These choices have curricular and pedagogical consequences that need to be addressed.

SLO’s approach in Suriname

In order to work closely and effectively with the local government and stakeholders, we have established a small management unit in Suriname. Additional SLO experts travel regularly to Suriname to support specific curricular activities. As presented in the general information section of our international activities, we follow a collaborative and mutual learning approach, in which SLO’s and local expertise are valued and shared.

Aside from establishing curricular products for basic education, we invest in extending local professional capacity. The chosen approach of participatory and iterative curriculum design provides ample opportunities to do just that, through dialogues within the development groups. In addition, we offer on the job training sessions, and a complete 4-weeks course on curriculum development for staff of the local ministry of education.

The curricular products are established through rapid prototyping and iterative curriculum design.  Rapid prototyping is the development of a first initial design, based on initial design principles, in a short period of time. The first design is then discussed, tested and adapted in a series of improvements, the iterative design phase, until a final design is agreed upon. During the process, the design principles are revised and reformulated as the formal design principles for the rest of the project. The development groups are supported with relevant and supportive input during the development process. As such, the professional development strand is supportive to the actual needs during the process, instead of an in advance decided curriculum. Using such a relational curriculum approach anticipates relevant input to, and meeting the learning needs of the groups. Such an approach is different from mainstream professional development programs, which are characterized by a pre-described and formal curriculum.

For the evaluation of professional learning outcomes, the professional development evaluation model of Guskey is used. Guskey’s model consists of five levels. Table 2 shows the five levels of professional development: participants’ reactions (i.e. the experiences of the participants), participants’ learning (to what extent were knowledge and skills acquired), organizational support (were participants supported when returning to the working place) and participants’ use (what did the participants start applying in their work). The fifth level describes how students in the classroom benefitted from their teacher’s development.

Established curricular products

  1. Curriculum framework
  2. Learning strands for all subjects
  3. Pre-primary education curriculum
  4. Grade 3 curriculum
  5. Curriculum development course for civil servants

The established curriculum framework forms the foundation of the curriculum reform. It is grounded in both Surinamese education policy, and contemporary international curriculum knowledge. The developed curriculum framework (figure 2) incorporates all the desired aspects for Suriname’s basic education program and approach. The learning strands and the pre-primary curriculum follow the principles presented by the curriculum framework.

learner.jpgThe learner is at the centre, surrounded by the content of the subject areas (on the right) and general competencies (on the left). The general competencies – based on the basic life skills and early childhood programs - should be incorporated in the daily educational routine and, as much as possible, incorporated in the subject areas. The teacher and learning environment should bridge both contents and support the learner with the acquisition of all knowledge, skills and attitudes, if necessary supported by the support network. The complete structure rests on the assumptions as formulated by the ministry and stakeholders.

Click on the framework for a more extensive version.

The learning strands consist of sub goals for the lower and middle grades, and end goals for the higher grades. The learning strands warrant logical organization of the learning content within and between subjects, as well as a concentric and gradual increase of difficulty.

Figure 2  Curriculum framework (SLO, 2011)

 


The curriculum development course for ministry staff consists of 4 course weeks, and follows the curriculum development cycle of analysis, design, development, implementation and evaluation. Each course week is dedicated to one or more of these stages. During the first week curricular and education reform and analysis of the current situation, needs and wishes and international literature on curriculum development, are highlighted. The second week focuses on design and development of the different curricular products and how professional development is interwoven with establishing these products. The third and fourth weeks are entirely dedicated to implementation and evaluation activities. The participants have to complete a master assignment, in order to receive a certificate. Please contact SLO for more information on this course.

Supportive research

A number of researches have been carried out in order to inform certain decisions for the structure of the higher grades of the basic education cycle and special education. These researches have been carried out with local institutes and the local ministerial departments of Research & Planning, and Curriculum Development. Again, these projects were seen as opportunities to extend local professional capacity.

Appreciation of our approach in Suriname

Our Surinamese counterparts highly appreciate our approach and support towards the basic education curriculum. Table 1 shows the results of the evaluation, indicating views of the quality of the curriculum framework and learning strands held by the local developers.

 

Table 1   Results of the quality evaluation of the curriculum framework and learning strands 

Learning strands

(n=32)(%)

Negative

Positive

Missing

Negative

Positive

Missing

Vision incorporated in the products

0

6

0

6

89

5

Relevance 0

6

0

15

72

13

Consistency

0

6

0

13

75

12

Usability

0

6

0

5

87

8

The pre-primary curriculum was examined in more detail. Table 2 shows a selection of the results of the quality evaluation, carried out in 30 pilot schools throughout the country.

 

Table 2   Results of the quality evaluation of the pre-primary curriculum

Pre-primary curriculum

(n=40)(%)

Negative

Positive

No opinion

The principles are relevant

3

89

9

The learning activities match the perception of the children

9

91

0

The curriculum meets the language acquisition needs better than the previous method

3

94

3

The curriculum provides more preparatory numeracy than the previous method

3

91

6

The curriculum offers enough possibilities for more (inter)active and participatory learning

0

100

0

The curriculum prepares the children for primary education more adequately

3

89

9

Teachers are prepared to work with the curriculum

23

74

3

Teachers are able to carry out the learning activities

6

89

6

The children like the activities in the curriculum

6

86

9

The materials are easy to use in the classroom

12

82

6

The chosen approach was evaluated with all developing groups, during and after the project. Table 3 shows the results of the midterm and final evaluations for the curriculum framework and learning strands development groups, and the final evaluation for 8 members of the pre-primary curriculum development group. This group had started its activities well before this research commenced, making only a final evaluation possible.

 

Table 3   Outcomes of midterm and final evaluations

Curriculum framework

(n=8)(%)

Learning strands (n=33/32)(%)

Pre-primary curriculum

(n=8)(%)

Midterm

Final

Midterm

Final

Final

Participants’ reactions

Good impression of the way the development process was managed

75

91

94

91

100

Large involvement of participants during the development process

63

91

84

91

100

There was enough space for exchange within the working group(s)

63

63

82

94

100

The available time was good

38

34

30

34

100

 Workable size of the working group(s)

75

87

79

87

100

Age differences in the working group(s) had a positive impact on the results

88

100

94

100

100

Diverse composition of the working group(s) had a positive impact on the results

88

89

95

90

100

The right representatives were represented

50

66

51

66

88

Participants’ learning

Large learning curve through the development process

75

81

76

81

100

Participants’ use

Large uptake of acquired knowledge and skills in the daily work of participants

63

91

78

91

100

Curriculum development approach

What was expected was clear for the participants

75

78

84

78

100

XXX and developers worked from the Surinamese perspective

100

100

97

100

100

The experts had high knowledge of working in an international context

75

90

93

90

89

The experts had a clear vision on the development process

88

88

80

81

100

The meetings were led well

76

91

86

88

100

Enough space was incorporated for input by participants

88

100

91

100

88

The selected design activities were relevant

100

88

85

88

100

The participant’s involvement was extended

88

94

91

94

100

The input of SLO improved the results

75

78

88

78

100