In education, a curriculum (/kəˈrɪkjᵿləm/; plural: curricula /kəˈrɪkjᵿlə/ or curriculums) is broadly defined as the totality of student experiences that occur in the educational process. The term often refers specifically to a planned sequence of instruction, or to a view of the student's experiences in terms of the educator's or school's instructional goals. In a 2003 study Reys, Reys, Lapan, Holliday and Wasman refer to curriculum as a set of learning goals articulated across grades that outline the intended mathematics content and process goals at particular points in time throughout the K–12 school program. Curriculum may incorporate the planned interaction of pupils with instructional content, materials, resources, and processes for evaluating the attainment of educational objectives. Curriculum is split into several categories, the explicit, the implicit (including the hidden), the excluded and the extra-curricular.
- Definitions and interpretations
- Historical conception
- Progressivist views
- Primary and secondary education
- South Africa
- South Korea
- United Kingdom
- United States
- Higher education
- Core curriculum
- Distribution requirements
- Open curriculum
- Works cited
Curricula may be tightly standardized, or may include a high level of instructor or learner autonomy. Many countries have national curricula in primary and secondary education, such as the United Kingdom's National Curriculum.
UNESCO's International Bureau of Education has the primary mission of studying curricula and their implementation worldwide.
The word "curriculum" began as a Latin word which means "a race" or "the course of a race" (which in turn derives from the verb currere meaning "to run/to proceed"). The first known use in an educational context is in the Professio Regia, a work by University of Paris professor Petrus Ramus published posthumously in 1576. The term subsequently appears in University of Leiden records in 1582. The word's origins appear closely linked to the Calvinist desire to bring greater order to education.
By the seventeenth century, the University of Glasgow also referred to its "course" of study as a "curriculum", producing the first known use of the term in English in 1633. By the nineteenth century, European universities routinely referred to their curriculum to describe both the complete course of study (as for a degree in surgery) and particular courses and their content.
Definitions and interpretations
There is no generally agreed upon definition of curriculum. Some influential definitions combine various elements to describe curriculum as follows:
Curriculum can be ordered into a procedure:Step 1: Diagnosis of needs. Step 2: Formulation of objectives. Step 3: Selection of content. Step 4: Organization of content. Step 5: Selection of learning experiences. Step 6: Organization of learning experiences. Step 7: Determination of what to evaluate and of the ways and means of doing it.
Under some definitions, curriculum is prescriptive, and is based on a more general syllabus which merely specifies what topics must be understood and to what level to achieve a particular grade or standard. The word Syllabus originates from Greek. The Greek meaning of the word basically means a "concise statement or table of the heads of a discourse, the contents of a treatise, the subjects of series of lectures.
'Curriculum' has numerous definitions, which can be slightly confusing. In its broadest sense a curriculum may refer to all courses offered at a school, explicit. The intended curriculum, which the students learn through the culture of the school, implicit. The curriculum that is specifically excluded, like racism. Plus, the extra curricular activities like sports, and clubs. This is particularly true of schools at the university level, where the diversity of a curriculum might be an attractive point to a potential student.
A curriculum may also refer to a defined and prescribed course of studies, which students must fulfill in order to pass a certain level of education. For example, an elementary school might discuss how its curriculum, or its entire sum of lessons and teachings, is designed to improve national testing scores or help students learn the basics. An individual teacher might also refer to his or her curriculum, meaning all the subjects that will be taught during a school year.
On the other hand, a high school might refer to a curriculum as the courses required in order to receive one’s diploma. They might also refer to curriculum in exactly the same way as the elementary school, and use curriculum to mean both individual courses needed to pass, and the overall offering of courses, which help prepare a student for life after high school.
Curriculum can be envisaged from different perspectives. What societies envisage as important teaching and learning constitutes the "intended" curriculum. Since it is usually presented in official documents, it may be also called the "written" and/or "official" curriculum. However, at classroom level this intended curriculum may be altered through a range of complex classroom interactions, and what is actually delivered can be considered the "implemented" curriculum. What learners really learn (i.e. what can be assessed and can be demonstrated as learning outcomes/learner competencies) constitutes the "achieved" or "learned" curriculum. In addition, curriculum theory points to a "hidden" curriculum (i.e. the unintended development of personal values and beliefs of learners, teachers and communities; unexpected impact of a curriculum; unforeseen aspects of a learning process). Those who develop the intended curriculum should have all these different dimensions of the curriculum in view. While the "written" curriculum does not exhaust the meaning of curriculum, it is important because it represents the vision of the society. The "written" curriculum is usually expressed in comprehensive and user-friendly documents, such as curriculum frameworks; subject curricula/syllabuses, and in relevant and helpful learning materials, such as textbooks; teacher guides; assessment guides.
In some cases, people see the curriculum entirely in terms of the subjects that are taught, and as set out within the set of textbooks, and forget the wider goals of competencies and personal development. This is why a curriculum framework is important. It sets the subjects within this wider context, and shows how learning experiences within the subjects need to contribute to the attainment of the wider goals.
There are many common misconceptions of what curriculum is and one of the most common is that curriculum only entails a syllabus. Smith (1996,2000) says that, "A syllabus will not generally indicate the relative importance of its topics or the order in which they are to be studied. Where people still equate curriculum with a syllabus they are likely to limit their planning to a consideration of the content or the body of knowledge that they wish to transmit". Regardless of the definition of curriculum, one thing is certain. The quality of any educational experience will always depend to a large extent on the individual teacher responsible for it (Kelly, 2009).
Curriculum is almost always defined with relation to schooling. According to some, it is the major division between formal and informal education. However, under some circumstances it may also be applied to informal education or free-choice learning settings. For instance, a science museum may have a "curriculum" of what topics or exhibits it wishes to cover. Many after-school programs in the US have tried to apply the concept; this typically has more success when not rigidly clinging to the definition of curriculum as a product or as a body of knowledge to be transferred. Rather, informal education and free-choice learning settings are more suited to the model of curriculum as practice or praxis.
In the early years of the 20th century, the traditional concepts held of the "curriculum is that it is a body of subjects or subject matter prepared by the teachers for the students to learn." It was synonymous to the "course of study" and "syllabus".
In The Curriculum, the first textbook published on the subject, in 1918, John Franklin Bobbitt said that curriculum, as an idea, has its roots in the Latin word for race-course, explaining the curriculum as the course of deeds and experiences through which children become the adults they should be, for success in adult society. Furthermore, the curriculum encompasses the entire scope of formative deed and experience occurring in and out of school, and not only experiences occurring in school; experiences that are unplanned and undirected, and experiences intentionally directed for the purposeful formation of adult members of society. (cf. image at right.)
To Bobbitt, the curriculum is a social engineering arena. Per his cultural presumptions and social definitions, his curricular formulation has two notable features: (i) that scientific experts would best be qualified to and justified in designing curricula based upon their expert knowledge of what qualities are desirable in adult members of society, and which experiences would generate said qualities; and (ii) curriculum defined as the deeds-experiences the student ought to have to become the adult he or she ought to become.
Hence, he defined the curriculum as an ideal, rather than as the concrete reality of the deeds and experiences that form people to who and what they are.
Contemporary views of curriculum reject these features of Bobbitt's postulates, but retain the basis of curriculum as the course of experience(s) that forms human beings into persons. Personal formation via curricula is studied at the personal level and at the group level, i.e. cultures and societies (e.g. professional formation, academic discipline via historical experience). The formation of a group is reciprocal, with the formation of its individual participants.
Although it formally appeared in Bobbitt's definition, curriculum as a course of formative experience also pervades John Dewey's work (who disagreed with Bobbitt on important matters). Although Bobbitt's and Dewey's idealistic understanding of "curriculum" is different from current, restricted uses of the word, curriculum writers and researchers generally share it as common, substantive understanding of curriculum. Development does not mean just getting something out of the mind. It is a development of experience and into experience that is really wanted.
Robert M. Hutchins, president of the University of Chicago, regarded curriculum as "permanent studies" where the rules of grammar, rhetoric and logic and mathematics for basic education are emphasized. Basic education should emphasize 3 Rs and college education should be grounded on liberal education. On the other hand, Arthur Bestor as an essentialist, believes that the mission of the school should be intellectual training, hence curriculum should focus on the fundamental intellectual disciplines of grammar, literature and writing. It should also include mathematics, science, history and foreign language.
This definition leads us to the view of Joseph Schwab that discipline is the sole source of curriculum. Thus in our education system, curriculum is divided into chunks of knowledge we call subject areas in basic education such as English, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies and others. In college, discipline may include humanities, sciences, languages and many more. Curriculum should consist entirely of knowledge which comes from various disciplines.To learn the lesson is more interesting than to take a scolding, be held up to general ridicule, stay after school, receive degrading low marks, or fail to be promoted.
Thus, curriculum can be viewed as a field of study. It is made up of its foundations (philosophical, historical, psychological, and social foundations); domains of knowledge as well as its research theories and principles. Curriculum is taken as scholarly and theoretical. It is concerned with broad historical, philosophical and social issues and academics. Under a starting definition offered by John Kerr and taken up by Vic Kelly in his standard work on the curriculum, curriculum is “all the learning which is planned and guided by the school, whether it is carried on in groups or individually, inside or outside the school.
Four ways of approaching curriculum theory and practice:
- Curriculum as a body of knowledge to be transmitted.
- Curriculum as an attempt to achieve certain ends in students – products.
- Curriculum as a process .
- Curriculum as praxis.
In recent years the field of education, and therefore curriculum, has expanded outside the walls of the classroom and into other settings such as museums. Within these settings curriculum is an even broader topic, including various teachers such as other visitors, inanimate objects such as audio tour devices, and even the learners themselves. As with the traditional idea of curriculum, curriculum in a free choice learning environment can consist of the explicit stated curriculum and the hidden curriculum, both of which contribute to the learner's experience and lessons from the experience. These elements are further compounded by the setting, cultural influences, and the state of mind of the learner. Museums and other similar settings are most commonly leveraged within traditional classroom settings as enhancements to the curriculum when educators develop curriculum that encompasses visits to museums, zoos, and aquarium.
On the other hand, to a progressivist, a listing of school subjects, syllabi, course of study, and list of courses of specific discipline do not make a curriculum. These can only be called curriculum if the written materials are actualized by the learner. Broadly speaking, curriculum is defined as the total learning experiences of the individual. This definition is anchored on John Dewey's definition of experience and education. He believed that reflective thinking is a means that unifies curricular elements. Thought is not derived from action but tested by application.
Caswell and Campbell viewed curriculum as "all experiences children have under the guidance of teachers." This definition is shared by Smith, Stanley and shores when they defined "curriculum as a sequence of potential experiences set up in schools for the purpose of disciplining children and youth in group ways of thinking and acting."
Curriculum as a process is when a teacher enters a particular schooling and situation with: an ability to think critically, in-action; an understanding of their role and the expectations others have of them; and a proposal for action which sets out essential principles and features of the educational encounter. Guided by these, they encourage conversations between, and with, people in the situation out of which may comes a course of thinking and action. Plus, the teacher continually evaluates the process and what they can see of outcomes.
Marsh and Willis on the other hand view curriculum as all the "experiences in the classroom which are planned and enacted by teacher, and also learned by the students.
Any definition of curriculum, if it is to be practically effective and productive, must offer much more than a statement about knowledge-content or merely the subjects which schooling is to teach or transmit or deliver. Some would argue of the course that the values implicit in the arrangements made by schools for their pupils are quite clearly in the consciousness of teachers and planners, again especially when the planners are politicians, and are equally clearly accepted by them as part of what pupils should learn in school, even though they are not overtly recognized by the pupils themselves. In other words, those who design curricula deliberately plan the schools’ ‘expressive culture’. If this is the case, then, the curriculum is ‘hidden’ only to or from the pupils, and the values to be learnt clearly from a part of what is planned for pupils. They must, therefore, be accepted as fully a part of the curriculum, and most especially as an important focus for the kind of study of curriculum with which we are concerned here, not least because important questions must be asked concerning the legitimacy of such practices.
Currently, a spiral curriculum is promoted as allowing students to revisit a subject matter's content at the different levels of development of the subject matter being studied. The constructivist approach proposes that children learn best via pro-active engagement with the educational environment, i.e. learning through discovery.
Primary and secondary education
A curriculum may be partly or entirely determined by an external, authoritative body (e.g., the National Curriculum for England in English schools).
Crucial to the curriculum is the definition of the course objectives that usually are expressed as learning outcomes and normally include the program's assessment strategy. These outcomes and assessments are grouped as units (or modules), and, therefore, the curriculum comprises a collection of such units, each, in turn, comprising a specialised, specific part of the curriculum. So, a typical curriculum includes communications, numeracy, information technology, and social skills units, with specific, specialized teaching of each.
Core curricula are often instituted, at the primary and secondary levels, by school boards, Departments of Education, or other administrative agencies charged with overseeing education. A core curriculum is a curriculum, or course of study, which is deemed central and usually made mandatory for all students of a school or school system. However, even when core requirements exist, they do not necessarily involve a requirement for students to engage in one particular class or activity. For example, a school might mandate a music appreciation class, but students may opt out if they take a performing musical class, such as orchestra, band, chorus, etc.
In Australia, the Australian Curriculum took effect nationwide in 2014, after a curriculum development process that began in 2010. Previously, each state's Education Department had traditionally established curricula. The Australian Curriculum consists of one curriculum covering eight subject areas through year 10, and another covering fifteen subjects for the senior secondary years.
In Canada each province and territory has the authority to create its own curriculum. However, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut both choose to use the Alberta Curriculum for select parts of their curriculum. The territories also use Alberta's standardized tests in some subjects.
In South Africa the Caps curriculum is used in Public schools. Private schools use IEB, Cambridge, etc.
The National Curriculum of Korea covers kindergarten, primary, and secondary education, as well as special education. The version currently in place is the 7th National Curriculum, which has been revised in 2007 and 2009. The curriculum provides a framework for a common set of subjects through 9th grade, and elective subjects in grades 10 through 12.
The Japanese educational system is based off traditional values from their heritage with curriculum ideas borrowed from England, Germany, France and the United States. The Japanese curriculum is world-famous. Their math and science standards are among the most demanding in the developed countries. Students in Japan are expected to know more about another country's history, economics, and geography than their own country. Japanese students cannot skip grades and are not held back. They are expected to master the curriculum at every level. Due to their meritocratic nature, all students are funded equitably and follow exactly the same curriculum with the same expectations. Students that are ahead in class are expected to help those that are not. Beyond the academics, students are expected to clean the classrooms and the hallways to teach respect and responsibility.
In 2005, the Nigerian government adopted a national Basic Education Curriculum for grades 1 through 9. The policy was an outgrowth of the Universal Basic Education program announced in 1999, to provide free, compulsory, continuous public education for these years. In 2014, the government implemented a revised version of the national curriculum, reducing the number of subjects covered from 20 to 10.
The National Curriculum was introduced into England, Wales and Northern Ireland as a nationwide curriculum for primary and secondary state schools following the Education Reform Act 1988. Notwithstanding its name, it does not apply to independent schools, which may set their own curricula, but it ensures that state schools of all local education authorities have a common curriculum. Academies, while publicly funded, have a significant degree of autonomy in deviating from the National Curriculum.
The purpose of the National Curriculum was to standardise the content taught across schools to enable assessment, which in turn enabled the compilation of league tables detailing the assessment statistics for each school. These league tables, together with the provision to parents of some degree of choice in assignment of the school for their child (also legislated in the same act) were intended to encourage a 'free market' by allowing parents to choose schools based on their measured ability to teach the National Curriculum.
In the U.S., each state, with the individual school districts, establishes the curricula taught. Each state, however, builds its curriculum with great participation of national academic subject groups selected by the United States Department of Education, e.g. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) nctm.org for mathematical instruction.
The Common Core State Standards Initiative promulgates a core curriculum for states to adopt and optionally expand upon. This coordination is intended to make it possible to use more of the same textbooks across states, and to move toward a more uniform minimum level of educational attainment.
Many educational institutions are currently trying to balance two opposing forces. On the one hand, some believe students should have a common knowledge foundation, often in the form of a core curriculum; on the other hand, others want students to be able to pursue their own educational interests, often through early specialty in a major, however, other times through the free choice of courses. This tension has received a large amount of coverage due to Harvard University's reorganization of its core requirements.
Many labor economics studies report that employment and earnings vary by college major and this appears to be caused by differences in the labor market value of the skills taught in different majors. Majors also have different labor market value even after students complete graduate degrees such as law degrees or business degrees.
An essential feature of curriculum design, seen in every college catalog and at every other level of schooling, is the identification of prerequisites for each course. These prerequisites can be satisfied by taking particular courses, and in some cases by examination, or by other means, such as work experience. In general, more advanced courses in any subject require some foundation in basic courses, but some coursework requires study in other departments, as in the sequence of math classes required for a physics major, or the language requirements for students preparing in literature, music, or scientific research. A more detailed curriculum design must deal with prerequisites within a course for each topic taken up. This in turn leads to the problems of course organization and scheduling once the dependencies between topics are known.
Core curriculum has typically been highly emphasized in Soviet and Russian universities and technical institutes.
At the undergraduate level, individual college and university administrations and faculties sometimes mandate core curricula, especially in the liberal arts. But because of increasing specialization and depth in the student's major field of study, a typical core curriculum in higher education mandates a far smaller proportion of a student's course work than a high school or elementary school core curriculum prescribes.
Amongst the best known and most expansive core curricula programs at leading American colleges and universities are that of Columbia University, as well as the University of Chicago's. Both can take up to two years to complete without advanced standing, and are designed to foster critical skills in a broad range of academic disciplines, including: the social sciences, humanities, physical and biological sciences, mathematics, writing and foreign languages.
In 1999, the University of Chicago announced plans to reduce and modify the content of its core curriculum, including lowering the number of required courses from 21 to 15 and offering a wider range of content. When The New York Times, The Economist, and other major news outlets picked up this story, the University became the focal point of a national debate on education. The National Association of Scholars released a statement saying, "It is truly depressing to observe a steady abandonment of the University of Chicago's once imposing undergraduate core curriculum, which for so long stood as the benchmark of content and rigor among American academic institutions." Simultaneously, however, a set of university administrators, notably then-President Hugo Sonnenschein, argued that reducing the core curriculum had become both a financial and educational imperative, as the university was struggling to attract a commensurate volume of applicants to its undergraduate division compared to peer schools as a result of what was perceived by the pro-change camp as a reaction by “the average eighteen-year-old” to the expanse of the collegiate core.
As core curricula began to diminish over the course of the twentieth century at many American schools, some smaller institutions became famous for embracing a core curriculum that covers nearly the student’s entire undergraduate education, often utilizing classic texts of the western canon to teach all subjects including science. Four Great Books colleges in the United States follow this approach: St. John’s, Shimer, Thomas Aquinas, Gutenberg College and Thomas More.
Some colleges opt for the middle ground of the continuum between specified and unspecified curricula by using a system of distribution requirements. In such a system, students are required to take courses in particular fields of learning, but are free to choose specific courses within those fields.
Other institutions have largely done away with core requirements in their entirety. Brown University offers the "New Curriculum," implemented after a student-led reform movement in 1969, which allows students to take courses without concern for any requirements except those in their chosen concentrations (majors), plus two writing courses. In this vein it is certainly possible for students to graduate without taking college-level science or math courses, or to take only science or math courses. Amherst College requires that students take one of a list of first-year seminars, but has no required classes or distribution requirements. Similarly, Grinnell College requires students to take a First-Year Tutorial in their first semester, and has no other class or distribution requirements. Others include Evergreen State College, Hamilton College, and Smith College.
Wesleyan University is another school that has not and does not require any set distribution of courses. However, Wesleyan does make clear "General Education Expectations" such that if a student does not meet these expectations, he/she would not be eligible for academic honors upon graduation.