CONCEPTS OF CURRICULUM
Bently et al define curriculum as the ‘means and materials with which students will interact for the purpose of achieving identified educational outcomes.’ Practically all educational programs and courses use the core curriculum as a means of planning for the learning of its charges. Over time, the concepts of the curriculum have evolved in response to changes in a variety of areas. Going over several articles and readings on curriculum there are five broad concepts that historically undergirds curriculum development.
Synopsis of the Five Concepts of Curriculum
- Humanistic Curriculum – This approach makes curriculum relevant to students and helps them draw meaning from what they learn. McNeil (2006), suggest it is where ‘learning is high in personal relevance.’
- Academic Curriculum – The academic curriculum is focused on subject matter and mastery of academic content. Eisner & Vallance (1974), believes that this is the most traditional of the five orientations. They posit that it is mainly ‘concerned with enabling the young to acquire the tools to participate in the Western cultural tradition. ‘
- Social Reconstruction – This view looks at curriculum as a vehicle to effect social change. McNeil (2006) argues that ‘the primary purpose of the social reconstructionist curriculum is to confront the learner with the many severe problems that humankind faces.’ Students are provided with the tools to empower them as they seek solutions to social problems.
- Technological Approach – The ‘how’ of the education process is much of what underlines the technology approach. It provides an overarching set of resources needed by all other concepts.
- Cognitive – The focus here is on the ‘how’ rather than the ‘what’ of education. Eisner & Vallance (1974) sees the cognitive approach as historically addressing the central problem of “sharpening the intellectual processes and developing a set of cognitive skills that can be applied to learning virtually anything.”
Historical and Current Concepts of Curriculum
Concepts of the curriculum have evolved over time. Despite all the changes, there are some fundamental principles embedded in traditional concepts that continue to drive curriculum development. There has been some revolution in the humanistic approach as the need arises for the curriculum to address the personal concerns and needs of students. McNiel (2006) emphasises that the humanistic approach addresses the concerns and dissatisfaction faced by youths. He states that “much of the present curriculum is evidenced by high dropout rates, vandalism, and discipline problems among the bored, the unhappy, and the angry.” Ornstein & Hunkins (2009) informs that the humanistic approach is “rooted in the progressive philosophy and the child-centered movement of the early 1900s.” Students who can make personal connections to what they are learning to find it a more authentic approach and will tend to be personally engaged in the process.
The academic curriculum continues to be much of a mainstream approach. It drives the development of subject disciplines and courses of study that influence student career choices. Eisner & Vallance (1974) posits that traditionally the academic approach is primarily concerned with “enabling the young to acquire the tools to participate in the Western cultural tradition and with providing access to the greatest ideas and objects that man has created.” To some extent, this view of curriculum continues to hold true with changes in course content to align with new and changing career paths. Much of the challenge lies with preparing learners for jobs which do not really exist. Over the years, many career paths have seen a shift in focus and some have even disappeared with the advent of technology and automation.
Curriculum Concepts as Framework for Planning, Instruction and Assessment
The different concepts of curriculum provide a framework for an in-depth analysis of planning, instruction and assessment. The planning process is crucial to the success of any program. The social reconstructionist concept of the curriculum has some influence on planning. Vallance (1986), in taking a second look at concepts of curriculum, emphasises that the social reconstructionist approach drives the curriculum as a “means by which students are empowered to criticise and improve on society.” In many cultures, the idea of freedom of speech has led to a more vocal society. This perpetuates the need for learning institutions to provide a vehicle through which learners are taught to responsibly engage in dialogue to instigate change or simply for their voice to be heard.
The technological curriculum emphasises how curriculum engages learners. Efficiency and relevance are key to its far-reaching influence. Vallance (1986), suggests that it is the broadest of all the concepts, offering resources for all to engage learners. With the advent of social media and the influx of online training that is now the highlight of many academic programs, the technological curriculum has gained a lot more prominence in curriculum planning. Learning spans borders and many traditional institutions provide learners with options for studies that the technological curriculum makes possible.
In the context of current professional practice, there is a need to make learning all too relevant to learners and engage all stakeholders in the process. Technological resources provide a direct means to planning and providing options for pedagogical documentation and other forms of documenting student learning. There is a constant blending of the traditional and the current concepts. Effective curriculum planning requires flexibility and willingness to adapt to changes as they occur. It certainly is not a static instrument but a dynamic mix of approaches and inputs to respond to the needs of learners.
Edward S., Ebert. C., Bentley M., Defining Curriculum (updated Jul 19, 2013), Retrieved from https://www.education.com/reference/article/curriculum-definition/, July 10, 2017
Eisner E. & Vallance E. (Eds.), Conflicting Conceptions of Curriculum (pp. 1-18). Berkeley, CA: McCutchan Publishing.
McNeil, J. D. (2006). Contemporary Curriculum in Thought and Action (6th ed., pp. 1-13, 24-34, 44-51, 60-73). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Ornstein, A. C., & Hunkins, F. P. (2009). Curriculum: Foundations, Principles, and Issues (5th ed., pp. 2-9). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.