Curriculum transformation is an ongoing process that should be inclusive and in the interests of students and society, say UP academics

Posted on August 26, 2021

The University of Pretoria’s (UP) Faculty of Health together with the Faculty of Veterinary Science recently hosted a lecture on curriculum transformation whose aim was to take stock of what progress the University’s faculties have made towards realising the strategic objective of having a transformed curriculum which is inclusive and dynamic in the interests of UP students and the broader society.

Moderated by Professor Charles Maimela, Deputy Dean: Faculty of Law and Coordinator of the Relaunch on Curriculum Transformation, the lecture featured Professor Sumaiya Adam, Maternal Foetal Medicine Specialist, Centre for Maternal, Foetal, Newborn and Child Health Care Strategies, Faculty of Heath Sciences; Professor Corne Postma, Associate Professor / Head Clinical Unit, Department of Dental Management Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences; Professor Joseph Chamunorwa, Head of Department: Anatomy and Physiology, Faculty of Veterinary Science; Dr Kate May, Senior Lecturer and Director of the Clinical Skills Laboratory, Department of Production Animal Studies, Faculty of Veterinary Science; Professor Tiaan de Jager, Dean: Faculty of Health Sciences; and Professor Dietmar Holm, Deputy Dean: Teaching and Learning, Faculty of Veterinary Science, who both did the pre-recordings for the two Faculties.

“Our faculty is committed to continue the re-evaluation and transformation of our curriculum and come up with sustainable teaching and learning platforms that are aligned with societal needs of today and the future,” said Prof De Jager. “Curriculum transformation is a learning process. Teaching and learning platforms need to be purposefully transformed [and made available] to graduate learners who are able to connect across disciplines by creating opportunity for transdisciplinary research and practical interactions because it allows our trainee healthcare professionals a greater understanding of their role and contributions to society. Recently, the health faculty has acquired the curriculum mapping software Looop, which has enabled us to determine gaps and identify duplication of content. This will enable us to streamline a content-heavy curriculum by integrating knowledge that does system thinking rather than the historical silo route. This incorporates skills training and soft skills required from a 21st century graduate,” said Prof De Jager adding that soft skills such as “empathy, compassion and resilience” are important in the workplace.

“Furthermore, the revised curriculum is being designed to ensure that clinical or practical training commences in the first year of study and that students are exposed to research at an early stage. Our transformative approach includes the use of innovation and technology, as introduced by the fourth industrial revolution, as key drivers, and to this end the skills laboratory has seen the implementation of training software packages linked to mannequins assimilating real patients’ scenarios for students to train on. On this, we have introduced specialised training in anaesthesiology and surgery, to name a few. We have also introduced significant changes in the modes of assessment incorporating various and continuous assessment methods.”

In her presentation, titled ‘Incorporating Social Justice in Medical Education’, Prof Adam said curriculum transformation is an ongoing process. “We need to consider the complexities involved in transforming decades of teaching and learning practices. We also need to deal with local and global challenges. In doing this, we need to look at who we teach and who teaches, where we teach and what we teach.” Prof Adam said transformation occurs at two levels: the administrative, with student selection, and the curriculum. We need to make learning accessible to all, and we have made great strides in recruiting students from diverse backgrounds, but we have to bear in mind that these students have different levels of access to technology and educational backgrounds. And we have witnessed this as we had to move quickly to online learning.”  

According to Prof Holm Deputy Dean Teaching and Learning, the veterinary sciences faculty’s curriculum was reviewed and revised, and a six-year programme was reintroduced with its first students graduating in 2016. The process involved a wide range of stakeholder consultation and alignment of the curriculum to accommodate the South African, African and global environments. It also included a heavier emphasis on work-based learning and community engagement. “The outcomes of this programme are the day-one competencies of a South African veterinarian. Compulsory Community Service (CCS) for veterinarians was introduced by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development in 2016, this means all veterinary graduates from our faculty are employed as CCS veterinarians for one year following graduation before they are allowed to practice independently,” said Prof Holm. The faculty continues to support this initiative aimed at providing veterinary services to communities that would otherwise not have access to them.

“By integrating education, we can become more efficient and that is what we are going to use to look for software for mapping to get that efficiency and combine certain modules together into efficient modules and reduce the number of modules,” noted Prof Postma. “Soft skills need to build up more and to move away from this biological approach, because we are not teaching a disease but a person,” he added.

Prof Chamunorwa said the policy statement of UP with regards to curriculum design and development states that UP understands curriculum development is essentially a future-oriented stakeholder-guided process that involves a lot of aspects. “That is why we have to be guided by our main stakeholder: the day-one competencies required for veterinary nursing professionals. The degree is designed as a spiral-integrated curriculum, whereas the diploma follows a silo approach. The silo approach has to be abandoned.” 

Echoing the same sentiment was Dr May, who said the day-one competencies set up by the South African Veterinary Council are all the expected clinical skills that are required from a veterinary upon graduation. “Not only have we relied on day-one competencies, but we have engaged with stakeholders just to check if the day-one competencies we are working towards are what is required by practitioners and employers in the profession. We have also gone backwards in terms of how we teach clinical skills where students can practice skills on models,” Dr May said.

Professor Maimela thanked the participants and invited members of the public and the UP community to upcoming lectures, particularly as the relaunch of curriculum transformation efforts puts the spotlight on all faculties.

Click here to watch the full session

- Author Xolani Mathibela

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