Teacher agency within a prescribed curriculum : the case of maths teachers' experience of implementing the CAPS curriculum.
Political changes that have taken place in post-apartheid South Africa have contributed to several policy initiatives aimed at achieving a more democratic and unified education system. Teachers in South Africa during the post-apartheid period contended with three major policy changes: Curriculum 2005 (C2005), Revised National Curriculum Statement (RNCS) and Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS). CAPS being the current state curriculum consists of a policy statement for teaching and learning in South African schools. The CAPS curriculum has been noted for its restrictive attribute and this study explored the agency that maths teachers have within the CAPS framework of education. This study focused on understanding the agency which maths teachers experience when implementing the CAPS curriculum and explored the various ways that teachers used their agency in mediating the restrictions experienced in implementing the CAPS curriculum. This was done by using the following instruments: descriptive essays, semi-structured interviews and focus group interviews as a means to generate rich, thick data required for understanding teachers’ experiences, classroom practices and feelings of teaching within a restricted curriculum. A case study approach within a qualitative design was employed. Three maths teachers were selected and deemed appropriate as this study sought depth of information and relevance. In this regard the case study was Aster Primary School, which is an urban primary school situated in KwaZulu-Natal. The findings generated from the three experienced maths teachers were analysed and represented within the context of the teachers’ teaching experiences, the school context and the prescript of the CAPS policy framework. The findings offer an understanding of how practising maths teachers account for their unique and diverse teaching experiences and provide a contextualised understanding of their agency, and how this shapes teaching and learning in their respective classrooms. The Samuel (2008) Force Field Model provided a framework to understand how teachers mediate the various forces that operate within a school system and emphasised the need for teachers to be autonomous professionals within this force field. The findings revealed by this research study indicate that the conceptions that maths teachers have about the CAPS curriculum are influenced by their past experiences. Evidence from the data generated indicate that policy initiatives aimed at educational transformation in South Africa are to a large extent not congruent with teachers’ existing beliefs. Teachers in this study have expressed their need for greater agency within their classroom practices and to be treated as autonomous professionals that possess the capability to act within the best interest of their learners. Participants have also explained that teachers are in fact central to the curriculum and should therefore be included in policy construction and revision. This dissertation concludes with a brief summary of the major conclusions that can be drawn from the study, and offers recommendations in light of the conclusions drawn. The reconceptualisation of education through new policy initiatives, and curriculum revision should focus on understanding teachers’ contextual realities in their working environment. Teachers are required to take ownership of educational changes that occur and curricular reform needs to be focused on understanding teachers’ professional lives, development and requirements. Teachers are ultimately agents of change and must be treated as experts within the dynamics of change.