College of Education

The South African schools curriculum: from NCS to CAPS

Ms Alena Coetzee

Ms Alena Coetzee, a Senior Education Specialist from the Gauteng Department of Education, is every excited about the new curriculum of the government schools. She addressed staff members from the College of Education on 31 May 2012. Not only was she most knowledgeable about the progression from Curriculum 2005 (C2005) the Revised National Curriculum Statement (RNCS), she was also able to comment on the current move from the National Curriculum Statement (NCS) to the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS). CAPS is not a new curriculum, but an amendment to the National Curriculum Statement (NCS) Grades R-12, so that the curriculum is more accessible to teachers. Every subject in each grade will have a single, comprehensive and concise Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) that will provide details on what content teachers ought to teach and assess on a grade-by-grade and subject–by-subject basis. There will be clearly delineated topics for each subject and a recommendation on the  number and type of assessments per term. Outcomes and assessment standards are now called topics and themes and learning areas are now called subjects.  The Department of Basic Education has a five year plan to support teachers.  She indicated that in-service training must be provided and that management should get on board with CAPS training.  She also pointed out that Grade 3 teachers have already missed out on CAPS training.

Ms Marianna Naude, the new Principal of the UCECE nursery school, joined her and also shared her ideas as an experienced teacher (from the perspective of somebody who has worked with trying to practically implement the changes). According to her South African learners in the many township schools are struggling and even though the NCS had clear outcomes, teachers could decide what to teach based on the outcomes, and when and how they would teach it in the classroom. As a result when learners moved from one school to another, they would develop learning gaps as the teaching sequence would not always be the same in different schools. Another problem is that many teachers believe that learners are only learning when they engage with a worksheet while others love group work. According to Ms Coetzee you only know for sure that learners comprehend something when they are able to explain how they arrived at their answer. Too few teachers know how they are going to get the children to understand the content or how they will access the learning of a particular knowledge item.  Assessment is the key to the learning process and many teachers are confused by the terminology.  They don’t know about rubrics, grids and continuous assessment.  They even don’t know if they are mediators or teachers anymore!

Student teachers and recently graduated teachers struggle to apply their training because how they were taught doesn’t always correspond with the reality in schools, so it confuses the young inexperienced teachers. For instance, in mathematic teaching, primary school learner-teachers are expected to know that they need to work with the concrete to show and develop the learner’s number concepts, that they should be able to break down and build up numbers, double up or to halve numbers, make use of number lines, etc. Instead the young teachers find themselves teaching by rote.

Another problem that urgently needs attention is the acceptance of little ones into Grade 1. Too many are being allowed despite the fact that they are still too young and should rather go to Grade R. When the children are underage, it is actually detrimental as they are still in a stage where they want to play. Not only do classes become too full, the little ones are often being challenged beyond their abilities.

According to Ms Coetzee many teachers still don’t know how to work with the concrete (body – non-body), representative and abstract concepts as described above to teach basic mathematical principles. Instead of criticising our teachers, we need to motivate them to start applying these methodologies correctly. In this way we can help our teachers to “fly” and enjoy their work. We need to focus on:
• alleviating a lack of knowledge
• stopping the culture of blaming each other
• assisting teachers to do phase planning, because the Grade 4 teacher must know what happened in Grade 3;  and
• encouraging self-analysis and reflection.

The speakers concluded by mentioning that a collaborative approach would be ideal and that all stakeholders involved in teacher training should benefit from such an approach.

11 comments to The South African schools curriculum: from NCS to CAPS

  • Rob Burns

    Why does UNISA not teach CAPS? Why would the Education Department implement a new curriculum before universities start teaching according to that new curriculum?

    • Mariëtta Bettman

      Dr G van den Berg (CEDU, Curriculum and Instructional studies) responded to your query with the following: “CAPS is policy document from the Department of Basic Education, which should be implemented by relevant stakeholders (e.g. schools and higher education institutions). Inputs from Unisa and other stakeholders were included in the CAPS policy development process. Currently the College of Education is assisting students with the implementation of CAPS. It is already included in most Unisa modules taught in the Foundation and FET Phases, for these phases are the first ones to implement CAPS. In the practical modules teachers and prospective teachers are given the choice of lesson planning according to either the NCS (Grades 4-7 and 11, 12) or CAPS (Foundation Phase, Grade 10). At the moment we are in a transitional phase according to the different policy documents, and we have to respect both. We are also aware of the fact that we have many international students teaching different curricula, therefore we need to teach beyond one specific curriculum”.

  • Nasheeta Abrahams

    I understand that this is a transitional phase Unisa is going through however, wouldn’t it make sense to guide us to places/ institutions to get this training ourselves? Many of us are graduating and will be looking for work for 2013 and are now faced with a dilemma where all post would like you to be CAPS trained, making our qualification useless. Please advise where I can get this training in the Western Cape.

    • Mariëtta Bettman

      Dear Ms Abrahams,
      Unfortunately we don’t offer any formal CAPS training at the moment. I think the best for the students is to contact the Department of Basic Education or their nearest school to find at about training opportunities.
      Regards, Dr EC du Plessis
      Curriculum & Instructional Studies

  • Lauren van Steenderen

    Has anyone made progress with finding out where one can study CAPS IN CAPE TOWN? please could I have the telephone number for the Institute.
    Short comment: people are being asked to leave their jobs as a result of not having CAPS. Has the Department of Education thought about that?? If you want old dogs to learn new tricks you should offer training to schools free of charge, and not just pass laws that people may lose their jobs over. we all want the best for our children,and I understand what you are trying to do, If you going to change the curriculum, Please train the teachers first before making up new laws!!!!!!

    • Mariëtta Bettman

      Although I cannot assist the student’s request of identifying a place in Cape Town where she could study CAPS, the provincial education department in the Western Cape might be able to assist in this regard, and we suggest that interested people visit their website for more information.

  • bradley

    How does the cas work??? Cause its normally 25% assessments and 75% exam…

    • Mariëtta Bettman

      Please visit the Department of Education website for the specific guidelines regarding the differences between subjects and grades (phases) and for more information on this matter. Assessment weightings differ between various subjects and grades.

  • gwen

    Dear Mrs Bettman,
    I am currently in my last year of study at UNISA for BED-foundation phase. I would like to start with my HON. in special needs education next year. I have gone trough the CAPS workbooks and must say alot of UNISA modules have complied with almost the same idea. Does this still mean that I must go for CAPS training in the future?
    yours sincerely,

    • Mariëtta Bettman

      Dear Gwendoline
      It is always a good idea to go for CAPS training, it will assist you greatly to be on the fore front of education deliberations in South Africa. It is however not compulsory to do training before you start with your honours (lecturers may however expect that you have a working knowledge of CAPS).
      Kind regards
      Prof Corinne Meier
      Department Early Childhood Development, College of Education, University of South Africa
      Fax: 086 6343 923,, Web:

      Prof Lenyai the COD of Early Childhood Development, added the following: “CAPS training is commissioned by the DBE and is mandatory for teachers at schools. Unisa does not determine teacher upgrading or support, it is only responsible for pre-service training.”

  • I could not refrain from commenting. Well written!

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