03 SES 01, Development of National Curriculum Frameworks
Many countries in Europe (and beyond) are currently engaged in redesiging their national curriculum frameworks. Various motives play a role:
- adapting education to nowadays challenges (of e.g. digitalization)
- addressing shortcomings of existing frameworks (e.g. outdated content or lack of coherence)
- improving 'quality' in terms of international competition and rankings (on e.g. PISA).
Almost every country struggles with questions how to approach this task and all seem curious for more information about how other countries are actually dealing with it. However, the existing curriculum literature is not very helpful in this respect. Few curriculum books and journal articles deal with the specifics of currculum development at system level, let alone form a comparative perspective. Some chapters in curriculum handbooks (e.g. Levin, 2008; Sinnema, 2016; Westbury, 2008) deal with curriculum policy making, but do not offer much specific information about actual practices and experiences across countries. And although there is some literature on the nature of curriculum policy making in a number of European countries (in particular through books of the CIDREE-consortium; see Kuiper & Berkvens, 2013; Nyhamm & Hopfenbeck, 2014), rather limited and scattered information is available about the actual development processes, let alone a systematic overview and analysis of approaches and experiences across countries.
This paper reports about an effort to fill that gap through a comparative study of eleven countries (two-third of them within Europe and one-third from outside Europe).
The main research question is: How do countries actually approach the task of redesigning their national curriculum frameworks? Several aspects within this overall question are being studied: timeframes (overall and per stage); phases (e.g. analysis, design, consultation, decision making, implementation) distinguished; motives for redesign; major steps and emphases in redesign; actors and stakeholders involved, including roles, tasks and responsibilities; relation between central and local activities and responsibilities; major obstacles experienced; major success factors; lessons learned for future.
In terms of theoretical perspective, the emphasis of this study is on a combination of technical-professional and socio-political issues rather than on substantive matters (cf. Goodlad, 1985).
The study has been conducted through a combination of various methods. The major sources of information were: (i) systematic internet search on education (in particular curriculum) websites of the respective countries (ministries; national agencies); (ii) a digital, structured questionnaire, completed by well-informed representatives in each country; (iii) when opportunity was possible: interviews (live/Skype) with colleagues from various countries; (iv) study of additional curriculum publications (generic or per country, when available). Based upon those eleven country portraits, a cross-case analysis has been conducted to search for commonalities and differences in patterns and to explore whether any generic conclusions and recommendations seem possible.
Here are some tentative results; the analysis is ongoing but will be completed in the Spring of 2018. Although there are various commonalities, for example in espoused motives for redesign, there are many variations and differences in approaches. For example, the differences in timeframes are striking, varying from one till over ten years for the whole trajectory. Standardization of the approach seems limited. The political nature of most processes is very obvious: many struggles about who is in charge in decision making, and often organizational changes in curriculum development after political changes in government. Many countries use the internet for consultations but the level of real engagement of the wider audience appears to remain limited. The role of teachers is often ambivalent: they feel often under-represented in national debates and react rather defensive on outcomes, but sometimes they are quite involved in local initiatives. However, the space, time and facilities for teacher engagement vary considerably between countries. In general, the gap between the intended curriculum (formal frameworks) and the implemented curriculum (as enacted in schools and classrooms) is, not surprisingly, rather big. Expectations about impact on the attained curriculum (eventual learner results) have to be very modest, at least on short notice. In general, the approaches of redesigning national curriculum frameworks seem to reflect characteristics of the respective countries in terms of political traditions and role divisions (notably more centralistic vs more decentralized cultures). Moreover, political changes at governmental level appear to have rather fast and direct implications for curriculum policy choices.
Goodlad, J. (1985). Curriculum as a field of study. In T. Husen & N. Postlethwaite (Eds.), The international encyclopedia of education (pp. 1141-1144). Oxford: Pergamon Press. Kuiper, W. & Berkvens, J. (Eds. ) (2013). Balancing curriculum regulation and freedom across Europe. CIDREE Yearbook 2013. Enschede, The Netherlands: SLO. Levin, B. (2008). Curriculum policy and the politics of what should be learned in schools. In F.M. Connelly, F. (Ed.), The Sage handbook of curriculum and instruction (pp. 7-24). Thousand Oakes, CA: Sage Publications. Nyhamn, F. & Hopfenback, T. (Eds.) (2014). From political decisions to change in the classroom: Successful simple,nation of educational policy. CIDREE Yearbook 2014. Oslo, Norway: Udir. Sinnema, C. (2016). The ebb and flow of curricular autonomy on local curricula: Balance between local freedom and national prescription in curricula. In D. Wyse, L. Hayward & J. Pandya (Eds. (206). The Sage handbook on curriculum, pedagogy and assessment (pp. 965-983). London: Sage Publications. Westbury, I. (2008). Making curricula: Why do states make curricula and how? In F.M. Connelly, F. (Ed.), The SAGE Handbook of curriculum and instruction (pp. 45-65). Thousand Oakes, CA: Sage Publications.
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