03 SES 10 B, School Based Curriculum Development and Curriculum Policy
Finding optimal solutions in curriculum policy, particularly what concerns the balance between the centralised and decentralised decision-making, is a recurrent issue in many countries (e.g. Kennedy 2010). On one hand, teachers are increasingly encouraged and expected to act as agents in curriculum development (Priestley et al 2012). On the other hand, governments irrespective of political persuasion are not likely to give up control of the curriculum (Kennedy 2010).
Teachers in many countries express dissatisfaction with the outcomes of these contradictory policy tendencies. Instead of the increased professional autonomy, they often feel disorientation, increasing workload and suppression caused by the centrally imposed examination system (Lam and Yeung 2010; Lundahl 2005; Nieveen and Kuiper 2012; Wong 2006). What teachers think and expect of the outcomes of curriculum reforms is thus an important research topic for finding better curricular solutions. “The best schooling systems involve a creative mix of ‘informed prescription’ at the policy producing centre and ‘informed professionalism’ at school and classroom sites” (Schleicher, cited from Wyse, 2013, p 2).
This study introduces a representative survey of 1035 Estonian school teachers on their experience of using and developing official curricula at national and school level, and on teachers’ preferences for different curricular solutions. The study is particularly relevant in countries that have recently experienced radical changes in curriculum policy.
In the once communist Eastern European countries, radical changes took place in late 1980s and early 1990s from the highly centralised, standardised, and unitary curriculum policy to curricula based on the ideas of democracy, humanism, and decentralization of curriculum development practice. The individual schools and their teachers were expected to become the main actors of curriculum reforms (Cerych 1999; Kalin and Zuljan 2007; Polyzoi and Černá2001). The changes were often painful and slow, as educators were simultaneously influenced by their deeply ingrained habit of blind obeying to centralized regulations and a plurality of ideas on curriculum policy-making pouring in from the Western countries. As schools and teachers were not prepared for this ultimate autonomy in curriculum design, the situation at schools often became chaotic (Krull & Mikser, 2010). Therefore, educational authorities often resumed the practice of central control of curricula.
In Estonia, three different versions of national curriculum for schools of general education have been approved after the re-independence - 1996, 2002, and 2011. Essentially, they all have had the same status, serving as the official guidelines for every school compiling its own curriculum. They have also been structured in a similar way, consisting of a general part conveying cross-curricular ideas and guidelines for compiling school curricula, and of a block of subject syllabi.
All these qualities have remained essentially the same in the Estonian national curriculum throughout these versions. This naturally raises the question, whether the curriculum policy in Estonia after the re-independence indeed could almost immediately yield to the solution which satisfies the expectations of all interested parties, including teachers. Do teachers really feel satisfied with the once established balance between curricular prescriptions and professional autonomy?
A model of teacher involvement in curriculum development was created in this study. It included as components characterization of teachers’ experience as users and designers of curricula, assessments for cross-curricular ideas and guidelines reflected in the general parts of curricula in use, and expectations for different curricular solutions. Basing on this model, a questionnaire for collecting information on teachers’ curricular thinking was compiled and tested for its validity and reliability. The questionnaire and the collected data can be seen as preparing a ground for international comparative studies of curriculum policy-making in countries that combine centralised and decentralised decision-making in curriculum development.
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