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Some thoughts on curriculum

Collins English Dictionary defines curriculum as "all the different courses of study that are taught in a school, college, or university".  This is a rather narrow definition, focussing as it does on the explicit curriculum. I am going to redefine curriculum as what students need to learn (with my focus being specifically on what school age learners need to learn).

Individual fulfilment and Universal wellbeingMy vision for education is encapsulated in the phrase 'Individual fulfilment and universal wellbeing'.  So the curriculum becomes what students need to learn in order to attain individual fulfilment and universal wellbeing, in the context of our rapidly changing world.

We face technological challenges, issues around:

  • privacy, data ownership and surveillance capitalism;
  • biotechnology and genetic engineering,
  • robotics, AI and cyborg engineering;
  • and the potential of automation to change the nature of work, possibly rendering many people unemployable, undermining market economies and exacerbating the equity gulf between the very rich and everyone else.

These come on top of challenges such as population growth and changing demographics, resource sustainability, and pollution and global warming. All of which feed into issues of mass migration and raise the likelihood of conflict and civil strife.

Schools ought to be equipping young people with the knowledge, skills and attributes that will enable them to overcome these global challenges.

This is NOT a choice between content OR skills, it is about developing skills and attributes through the application of information and understanding. Content matters, because without it you cannot develop skills and attributes.

The diagram below provides an overview of the key elements of what the curriculum should include (see Unpacking the Yin-Yang vision for more details).

Yin-Yang curriculum

What each of these elements would look like in practice will vary from learner to learner and between contexts. Thus, for example, in all cases values matter, but the values will vary from culture to culture. If you combine this with my views about effective pedagogy then I would argue that it is inappropriate to pre-define the curriculum in detail. Indeed, the curriculum cannot be captured in written statements of what should be taught, because it emerges from the ethos and practices within the school as well as from any specified learning intentions.

However, if you don't have a tightly pre-defined curriculum then the challenge is how to assess what has been learnt. I start to try to unpack what the characteristics of effective assessment are in another post.

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