The Saber-tooth Curriculum


Posted by Carla Grobbelaar | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on August 23, 2012

(Let wel: My volgende paar plasings gaan in Engels wees. Jammer vir die ongerief.)


The Saber-tooth curriculum is a satire on how a curriculum is implemented, how a community had undergone change and thus the curriculum also had to change to adapt to the community’s new needs. This satire on curriculum, however, is still applicable today. In this essay I will firstly discuss what universal principle is illustrated by the Saber-tooth curriculum. Secondly, I will give a brief account of the links between the Saber-tooth curriculum and the implementation of Outcomes Based Education (OBE), the National Curriculum Statement (NCS) and the new CAPS-curriculum in South African schools. Lastly I will explain the curriculum models and insights of Ralph Tyler, Lawrence Stenhouse and Poalo Freire and indicate how this precipitated into the new curriculum.


Living in the 21st century people constantly experience change: new things develop, technology renews and changes, circumstances one lives in change (i.e. through crime, gangsterism, HIV/aids) and the nature also undergoes changes (i.e. global warming). The main subject that changes, however, is the things one needs to learn in school in order to survive. The curriculum, as illustrated by the Saber-tooth curriculum, needs to be relevant and also needs to change over time in order to firstly satisfy the learner’s needs and secondly, to satisfy society’s needs.


“Outcome-based education (OBE) is a recurring education reform model. It frames itself as a student-centered learning philosophy that focuses on empirically measuring student performance, which are called outcomes.” (Wikipedia, 15 March 2012) Outcomes Based Education expects of the teacher to say exactly what the student is expected to learn and then to design an educational system / curriculum that ensures they have the best opportunity to learn it. You have to start with a clear picture of what is expected of the learners, organise the curriculum and assessment tasks in such a way that what is expected of the learners happens and determine what the students can now do with their knowledge and understanding of what they learnt.


New Fist Hammer Maker was the first great educational theorist. He was a doer and a thinker in the Chellean times. One day he observed his children outside playing. He noticed that their playing had no purpose at all. He decided that he want to get his children to do things which will give more food, shelter, clothing and security and in this way help them to live a better life. This was his educational goal. He then asked himself what must tribesmen do in order to have full stomachs, sleep warm and comfortable in a save environment. New Fist Hammer Maker developed three subjects at first that were essential in helping him achieve his educational goal. The first subject was “Fish-grabbing with the bare hands”, his second subject was “Wooly-horse clubbing” and his third subject was Saber-tooth tiger scaring with fire. When his children and the other tribesmen’s children achieved the outcomes of these three subjects they will also achieve his educational goal and lie a better life.


“The NCSs are based on a clear description of the kind of knowledge, skills, values and attitudes the South African learner needs to acquire…” (Department of Education 2002b) Some of the principles of the National Curriculum Statements are Outcomes Based Education, a high level of knowledge and skills for all, social transformation, progression and quality and efficiency. The NCSs has three key features, namely, critical and developmental outcomes (development of each student to his / her full potential), Learning Outcomes ( a description of what learners shoul be able to know and do) and Assessment Standards (descrption of the level at which students should be able to demonstrate their achievement of all the Learning Outcomes that were pre-determined). The NCS also states a specific number of subejcts for each year of learing. The new CAPS (Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement) replaces the NCS. “It is a simplified curriculum and give a week by week planning for teachers to follow.” (Stols, unknown date)


At first New Fist Hammer Maker wanted his children to develop the skills of fish-grabbing with bare hands, wooly-horse clubbing and Saber-tooth scaring with fire. But later his curriculum developed as the tribesmen’s circumstances developed and changed and there had to be a new set of values to achieve, namely using nets to catch fish, catching antelopes with snares and digging bear pits. With these subjects the goal were to transform the tribesmen socially to lead them to live a better and more enhanced life. The tribesmen progressed from New Fist Hammer Maker designing a curriculum from them to designing their own curriculum and also became more efficient. There were three subjects in the Saber-tooth Curriculum (the first three and then after the process of the development and change of circumstances the last three, but then the first three fell away):

  1. Fish-grabbing with bare hands
  2. Wooly-horse clubbing
  3. Sabertooth-tiger scaring with fire
  4. Catching fish with nets
  5. Catching antelope with snares
  6. Digging bear pits

Each of these subjects had their own critical and developmental outcomes, learning outcomes and assessment standards which its students needed to achieve, after which they could have progressed to further training in these subjects or start to practice the knowledge in real-life situations.


Between 1989 and 1994 South Africa’s education system changed greatly. The new educations system, as well s the curriculum that was implemented tried to incorporate the ideas of a variety of educational theorists who’s theories seemed to have some value. Three of these theorists were Ralph Tyler, Lawrence Stenhouse and Paolo Freire.


The first theory: Ralph Tyler believed that one of the most important aspects to keep in mind when designing a curriculum, is that effective learning should take place. Tyler designed four steps that should be followed when designing and developing a curriculum. They are:

  1. Decide on what the school wants the learners to achieve through education or on the educational purposes.
  2. Determine how you are going to ensure that learners achieve these educational goals meantioned in the first step.
  3. Establish ways in which you can manage what students experience through education effectively and organise these educational experiences.
  4. Evaluate if what you wantd the learners to receive through education and what they actually received is the same. If not, formulate ideas on how you can better these expectations, ideas and experiences in the future.


An example of Tyler’s theory in today’s curriculum would involve the four steps of curriculum designing. To illustrate the implementation of thee steps I will use the example of the learning area Life Orientation:

  1. There seems to be a general disillussionment on HIV/Aids in today’s society. The learners do not know what it is exactly, how one gets the virus or how it can be treated when a person is already infected. The lack of knowledge      causes a rise in the number of infected people. Students should be taught      about HIV/Aids and how to prevent it. An increase in knowledge will possible cause a decrease in infections.
  2.  Take the children to a HIV/Aids hospice, show them Powerpoint presentations and video’s on the subject, give them research projects to do and do class activities, posters or fundraisers to raise awareness in the class and in the school.
  3. Involve all the students in the activities being done in class. Keep record of everything that is being done and walk around eavesdropping on conversations by the students expressing to each other what they think and how they experience the subject. Try and change negative experiences into positive ones.
  4. Did the infections of HIV/Aids decrease? Why/why not? What else can be done to cause a decrease? Is there alternative approaches to creating awareness? How can the students further be helped to carry out a positive message on the prevention of the virus?

Three key concepts of Outcomes Based Education that were inspired and influenced by Tyler’s theory are clarity of focus, defined outcomes and individual learning.


The second theory: Lawrence Stenhouse believed that what must be taught and learnt, can’t be specified beforehand; plans change constantly, especially when the time comes to implement a specific curriculum. Teachers are professionals who’s objectives change or differs from the curriculums and their plans and opinions should be respected and considered when designing a curriculum. Every teacher will have a different approach to how they will approach a specific curriculum, depending on the background of the learners they need to teach. A curriculum shouls only suggest what needs to be taught and should not be a rigid and fixed learning plan. Stenhouse’s ideas are learner-centred. He believes that teachers should be facilitators or helpers, rather than authority figures.


An example of Stenhouse’s theory in today’s curriculum will be explained on the hand of teaching Shakespeare in the English Literatue Curriculum. What must be taught and learnt, can’t be specified beforehand. Just before Shakespeare can be taught in class according to the planned curriculum, a production of one of his plays come to your town. They give discount to schoolgroups and offer workshops on his dialogue after the play. You, as teacher, decide that this will really enhance the students’ experience and understanding of Shakespeare. Every teacher will have a different way to how they will approach a specific curriculum, depending on the background of the learners they need to teach. Children coming from privileged homes’ general understanding of Shakespeare will be better from the get-go and that will influence the way the teacher approach the subject further. They can be given reading or research projects or even exerpts of plays to perform. Children from rural areas and from poor homes from difficult circumstances will not have the knowledge on the subject that the privileged children has. Teachers will have a harder time teaching them Shakespeare. She should guide them step-by-step in the understanding of his plays and make the work applicable to their lives. Otherwise, they will easily become demotivated. The excursion to the production company will really benefit these students as they will understand better by seeing it visually than having to learn from only a book. One of the key concepts of Outcomes Based Education on today’s curriculum that were inspired and influenced by Stenhouse’s theory, is the designing down, delivering up principle.


The third theory: Poalo Freire believed that a curriculum can never be neutral – it has the ability to have either a positive or negative effect ons differnet students. Part if his belief is that teachers should not just teach to deepen a student’s knowledge, but to change the students world in terms of their survival in it and understanding of it. Freire built a ‘pedagogy of hope’ or a pedagogy’ or a ‘pedagogy of the oppressed’. No matter what effect the curriculum has on a student, it will always be political.


An example of Freire’s theory in today’s curriculum will be explained through the use of a subject like history. A curriculum teaching the content and history of Apartheid will not have a positive influence on both the white and the black students. Balck students will generally have a negative experience towards the cuuriculum and the curriculum will only bring up the hurt from the past for them, possible enhancing a hatred to all white people. The white children will have a positive experience toward the curriculum because the were not affected in a negative way by the Apartheid regime and it was their predecessors that were in charge. It may make them feel like they are in control, which is wrong toward the previous disadvantaged population. Part if his belief is that teachers should not just teach to deepen a student’s knowledge, but to change the students world in terms of their survival in it and understanding of it. The teacher have the power to change both the above mentioned opinions. The teacher should not simply teach the book content, but deepen the students’ understanding by explaining why happened what happened, how it had positive and negative attributes and how what happened in the passed was good, because it taught us how not to behave in the future which is going to make the future world a better place nd it’s all in their hands. No matter what effect the curriculum has on a student, it will always be political. There is always going to be people that approves or disapproves a curriculum and a teacher should teach her content so well that the teaching of a controversial curriculum, like Apartheid, the Boereoorlog, homesexuality, evolution, will disappoint neither parties. One of the key concepts of Outcomes Based Education that was inspired and influenced by Freire’s theory, is experiential learning.



  • Stols, Gerrit (date unkown)      (Retrieved 20 March 2012)
  • Department of Education. 2002b. Revised National      Curriculum Statement. (GET). Grades R-9. Pretoria: Government Printer.
  • Author unknown (15 March 2012)      (Retrieved 20 March)
  • Conley, L., De Beer, J., Dunbar-Krige, H., Du      Plessis, E., Gravett, S., Lomofsky, L., Merckel, V., November, I., Osman,      R., Petersen, N., Robinson, M., Van der Merwe, M. 2010. Becoming a      teacher. Pearson Education South Africa

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