03 SES 06 B, Curriculum and Purposeful Schooling
School reforms in many educational systems are driven by international benchmark indicators. Beyond the performance-based and economic function of schooling (Deng & Gopinathan, 2016), scholars have called for schools to revisit the fundamental purpose of education. A new imperative for educational change calls for both the academic and human purposes of education (Shirley, 2017). As the present criteria for success may not be valid for the future, it is important that schools ask more fundamental, compelling questions about what students make of school to guide students to make important decisions in the future about what they consider useful, successful, and ethical (Shirley, 2017; Willbergh, 2015).
This cross-national study examines the relationship between youth purpose, meaning in life, social support and life satisfaction among adolescents in Singapore and Israel. What are the comparative levels of youth purpose, meaning in life, social support and life satisfaction among Singapore and Israeli adolescents? How is life satisfaction affected by adolescents’ purpose, meaning in life and social support? As achievement-oriented education systems but within different socio-cultural and political contexts, the cases of Singapore and Israel shed light on the tensions of preparing students for success in the globalised economy while educating for an uncertain future. We argue that an understanding of what students make of school and consider as purposeful (or not) provides a rich pedagogical context for curriculum and school innovation and for teachers’ own development and growth to teach with purpose.
Purpose is defined as long-term intention to influence the world in ways both meaningful to oneself and others (Damon, Menon, & Bronk, 2003). Life purpose links meaningful and prosocial actions with motivating visions of one’s societal and economic contributions in the future. Questions about purpose give students clarity and direction for meaningful school and life experiences. For most students, the discovery of purpose is often left to chance (Damon, 2008). U.S. studies showed that 20% of students approached a clear sense of purpose while 25% expressed little interest in any long term goals (Bronk & Finch, 2010; Damon, 2008). Adolescents with self-reported life purpose showed higher levels of life satisfaction and school achievement (Bronk, Hill, Lapsley, Talib, & Finch, 2009). Meaning in life is the significance one makes of one’s life and provides a sense that one’s life matters and is worthwhile (Steger, Frazier, Oishi, & Kaler, 2006). Simply put, the meaning of life is to find one’s gift. The purpose of life is to use this gift for the benefit of both self and others.Social support is one’s perception of general support from people in one’s social network, which enhances functioning and protects the individual from adverse outcomes (Malecki & Demaray, 2002). Life satisfaction is a cognitive process assessing a person’s quality of life within chosen criteria (Diener, Emmons, Larsen, & Griffin, 1985).
Among achieving education systems like Singapore and Israel, it is imperative to investigate the criticality of what matters in schooling as experienced by students. This study is not about “what works” (Biesta, 2007) and not about best practices for schools. Responsible curriculum leadership is about exploring and understanding possibilities rather than reaching consensus (Marsh & Willis, 2007). Teaching and learning are reciprocal processes that cannot be dichotomised. It is important for teachers to ask the reciprocal question: “How does the curriculum that is learnt influence how curriculum is taught? (Heng, 2017, p. 143). Hence, this study seeks to open up discussions about what is good education and reconnect with the compelling questions of purpose and meaning of school for a more humanising and integrated vision of curriculum, teaching and learning.
Adopting a quantitative and qualitative design, the Singapore sample comprised 577 predominantly ethnic Chinese students aged 15 to 16 years old from two government schools. In Israel, 190 predominantly ethnic Jewish students aged 14 to 18 years old participated. Ethics approval and informed consent were obtained. The quantitative component included four questionnaires: (a) Life Goals Questionnaire (Roberts & Robins, 2000), with 17 items that reflect serving one’s own needs (e.g., make money, have fun, be successful), prosocial interests (e.g., help others, serve God, make the world a better place), and some that do not indicate a clear orientation (e.g., do the right thing, fulfil my obligations); (b) Meaning in Life Questionnaire (Steger, Frazier, Oishi, & Kaler, 2006), with two 5-item subscales: presence subscale measures the extent individuals feel that their life has meaning (e.g., “I have a good sense of what makes my life meaningful”), and search subscale measures individuals’ desire to find or deepen meaning in their lives (e.g., “I am always searching for something that makes my life feel significant”); (c) Satisfaction with Life Scale (Diener, Emmons, Larsen, & Griffin, 1985), with five items (e.g., “In most ways, my life is close to my ideal,”) that measure a global sense of life satisfaction and the addition of one item to measure school satisfaction, and (d) Child and Adolescent Social Support Scale (Malecki & Demaray, 2002), with a 60-item scale measuring perceived social support from five sources: teachers, classmates, close friends, parents, and people in school. The questionnaires were administered in one session not exceeding 30 minutes in each school, with a researcher present to answer questions. For the Israeli sample, the questionnaires were translated into Hebrew, piloted, and administered in Hebrew. Data analysis included cluster analysis, chi-square tests, MANOVA and two-step multiple regressions. For the qualitative component, clinical interviews (Ginsburg, 1997) were conducted with a total of 28 students from two schools in Singapore. Students who had the highest or lowest scores on one or more of the questionnaires were identified for the individual interviews. Ten students were interviewed individually a second time one year later to examine the stability of individual student’s responses and to obtain further elaboration. Students’ responses were coded and categorised into themes. Students’ responses from the Life Goals Questionnaire were profiled according to forms of purpose (Mariano, Going, Schrock & Sweeting, 2011).
Four purpose clusters emerged for Singapore: No Orientation, Self-focused, Other-focused, and both Self- and Other-focused. Israeli adolescents were in three purpose clusters without the No Orientation group. Israeli adolescents had significantly higher life satisfaction, with no purpose orientation for 18% of Singapore’s students having significant negative impact on life satisfaction. The presence of meaning, parents’ and teachers’ support were all positive predictors of life satisfaction. Notably, Israeli students had more life meaning and parental support. Singapore’s adolescents had more teacher support but were searching for meaning (Heng, Blau, Fulmer, & Pereira, 2017). Qualitative findings showed that the search for purpose was largely left to chance. Although Singapore adolescents demonstrated resilience and resourcefulness in constructing personal philosophies about life purposes, the sense and construction of purpose was tenuous. The findings bolster the argument that schooling should be an experience that speaks to students as human beings and invites schools and teachers to foreground moral and intellectual attentiveness (Hansen, 1999) in a person-centred, connected, and future-oriented curriculum to engage students in finding purpose in school and life. Planning for lessons that are significant and meaningful to students, an innovative and broadened curriculum can adapt from the German social pedagogy of Bildung (or self-formation), to foreground moral and intellectual sensibilities, and self-awareness. A Bildung-inspired broadened curriculum could focus on bringing out the educational substance in terms of essential learning and meaning, principles, significance, and value (Klafki, 2000). Hence, to think about curriculum, teaching and learning in a more integrated manner, it is important for teachers to raise different questions students should think about and connect with students’ experiences of the curriculum in ways that are important, meaningful and personally relevant. Such work with students informs teaching and seeds pedagogical change in the classroom in a more humane vision of what schools might become.
Biesta, G. (2007). Why “what works” won’t work: Evidence-based practice and the democratic deficit in educational research. Educational Theory, 57(1), 1-22. Bronk, K. C., & Finch, W. H. (2010). Adolescent characteristics by type of long-term aim in life. Applied Developmental Science, 14(1), 35-44. Damon, W. (2008). The path to purpose: Helping our children find their calling in life. New York, NY: The Free Press. Damon, W., Menon, J., & Bronk, K. C. (2003). The development of purpose during adolescence. Applied Developmental Science, 7(3), 119-128. Deng, Z., & Gopinathan, S. (2016). PISA and high-performing education systems: Explaining Singapore’s education success. Comparative Education, 52(4), 449-472. Diener, E., Emmons, R. A., Larsen, R. J., & Griffin, S. (1985). The satisfaction with life scale. Journal of Personality Assessment, 49(1), 71-75. Ginsburg, H. (1997). Entering the child's mind: The clinical interview in psychological research and practice. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. Hansen, D. T. (1999). Understanding students. Journal of Curriculum and Supervision, 14(2), 171-185. Heng, M. A., Blau, I., Fulmer, G. W., Bi, X., & Pereira, A. (2017). Adolescents finding purpose: Comparing purpose and life satisfaction in the context of Singaporean and Israeli moral education. Journal of Moral Education, 46(3), 308-322. Klafki, W. (2000). Didaktik analysis as the core of preparation of instruction. In I. Westbury, S. Hopmann, & K. Riquarts (Eds.), Teaching as a reflective practice: The German Didaktik tradition (pp. 139-159). Abingdon, Oxon, GB: Routledge. Malecki, C. K., & Demaray, M. K. (2002). Measuring perceived social support: Development of the Child and Adolescent Social Support Scale (CASSS). Psychology in the Schools, 39(1), 1-18. Marsh, C. J., & Willis, G. (2006). Curriculum: Alternative approaches, ongoing issues. (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/Prentice Hall. Roberts, B. W., & Robins, R. W. (2000). Broad dispositions, broad aspirations: The intersection of personality traits and major life goals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26(10), 1284-1296. Shirley, D. (2017). The new imperatives of educational change: Achievement with integrity. London, UK: Routledge. Steger, M. F., Frazier, P., Oishi, S., & Kaler, M. (2006). The meaning in life questionnaire: Assessing the presence of and search for meaning in life. Journal of Counselling Psychology, 53(1), 80.
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00. Central Events (Keynotes, EERA-Panel, EERJ Round Table, Invited Sessions)
Network 1. Continuing Professional Development: Learning for Individuals, Leaders, and Organisations
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