Foundation phase teachers' interpretation and implementation of the natural science curriculum in the life skills learning programme : a case study.
Since 1994, Early Childhood Development has been acknowledged and recognised as an essential focus theme for South Africa’s social and economic transformation and development. Early learning is an imperative for the growth of an educated South African society. The focus of the study is on teachers’ abilities to interpret and implement a new innovative curriculum. This interpretative, qualitative, case study attempts to explore foundation phase teachers’ interpretation and implementation of the Natural Science Curriculum within the Life Skills Learning Programme in South Africa. The study was prompted by personal observations of how teachers and students viewed the purpose of Natural Science in the Foundation Phase. Four foundation phase teachers, one from each Grade (R to Three) participated in the study. The learning environment was selected as the unit of analysis since this is where the learners, teachers, curriculum and educational resources meet. The theoretical framework for this study is entrenched in the relationship between the prescribed and the implemented curriculum and was developed by adapting the theory of implementation proposed by Rogan and Grayson (2003). It served as a guide to identify factors that influenced the way foundation phase teachers implement the Natural Science Curriculum in the Life Skills Learning Programme. The Zone of Feasible Innovation (ZFI) is the proposed theory of implementation. The ZFI is a hypothetical construct, which suggests that innovation should not exceed current practice by too large a gap between existing practice and the demands of the innovation. It provided the lens for positioning teachers at particular levels with regard to their capacity to implement a curriculum. The theoretical frameworks were used to answer the research questions and design the data collection instruments: a questionnaire, semi-structured interviews schedules, document analysis, classroom observation schedules and a rating scale were used to analyse the data. The levels for each teacher were determined for each construct of interpretation and implementation and subsequently used to determine their respective ZFIs. The teachers were located at relatively low levels of interpretation and implementation, resulting in very narrow ZFIs. The implications are that these teachers’ current practices are too far removed from that which the curriculum expects of them. Examples of such practices are: emphasis on Numeracy and Literacy; misunderstanding of the meaning of integration of subjects and a lack of science content knowledge and instructional methods used to teach Natural Science. The most significant finding, however, is that teachers have very little chance of expanding their ZFIs due to a misalignment between the Natural Science Curriculum and the Foundation Phase Curriculum that makes implementation of Natural Science in the Foundation Phase particularly problematic. The outcomes of this finding have resulted in the development of a proposed model which depicts a barrier preventing expansion of the teachers’ ZFI. A number of recommendations are proposed as possible actions to remove this barrier. It is envisaged that the findings of this study may provide useful insights for curriculum planners in the design of appropriate, innovative curricula for the Foundation Phase and beyond.