03 SES 01 A, Interdisciplinary and Concept-Based Curriculum Issues
Over the past few decades, Organisations such as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have helped homogenize educational policy in many instances and a form of ‘policy borrowing’ or ‘policy learning’ has emerged between many different countries (Priestley, 2002 and Sahlberg, 2007). This has occurred where features of overseas policies have been taken and adapted to fit a new context.
The influence of the global stage is hard to deny when considering Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), (Scottish Executive, 2006). For example, when considering the United Nations Educational Scientific Cultural Organization (UNESCO) document ‘The Treasure Within’ (Delors, 1996), it can be seen, that most of the themes running through this document can be found within CfE. ‘The Treasure Within’ states that there are ‘four pillars of education’ which are ‘learning to know’, ‘learning to do’, ‘learning to live’ (together) and ‘learning to be’. These strongly resemble the four capacities of CfE namely, ‘successful learners’, ‘effective contributors’, ‘responsible citizens’ and ‘confident individuals’.
One feature of the new curricular models is the emphasis placed on giving students transferable, generic skills through a focus on ‘cross cutting themes’ which blur disciplinary boundaries. This in turn has led to interdisciplinary learning (IDL) being named as one of the four contexts for learning within CfE, underpinned by a premise that we now require a knowledge economy which produces workers with adaptability, and capable of responding to rapid change in the job market. This in turn places an emphasis on the need for conceptual creativity (Reeves 2016).
Within CfE, the need for skills development features very heavily and IDL is promoted as something which provides a vehicle for this type of skills building and conceptual creativity. CfE suggests that IDL provides a space in the curriculum to enable learners to delve beyond disciplinary boundaries and make connections across subject areas. As a result, interdisciplinary education has become a prevalent topic, over the past decade, in both primary and secondary schools in Scotland and has been linked with fostering critical thinking, increasing knowledge retention, enhancing ability to synthesize or integrate perspectives, promoting creativity and developing transferable skills. Pupil voice is a key feature of IDL, with some advocates suggesting that democratic processes should be involved to ensure all students are included, motivated and engaged throughout the process (Beane, 1997).
It is unclear, however, how IDL has been understood and translated into practice by Scottish practitioners as little research has been done in this area. This paper aims to address this issue by considering how IDL policy is being put into practice in Scottish Primary Schools.
This paper presents the results of a qualitative study involving two case study schools. Teachers were interviewed using a hierarchical focusing method, classroom observations took place and policy documents analysed to gain an insight into how IDL policy is being translated into practice in Scottish schools. To analyse the data generated from this study, a cross case analysis mixed with a narrative approach were used. Factors such as: policy context; environment; school cultures and traditions were taken into consideration, in order, to understand their impact on teacher agency using an ecological model provided by Priestley et al. (2015) and make sense of the findings.
This paper aims to provide some clarity around IDL practices and to open discussion on the subject among practitioners. It demonstrates that policies around IDL are unclear and confusing and that teachers often find it hard to understand what an IDL activity involves. As a result, IDL practice varies within and between schools. The paper goes on to make recommendations for future practice regarding IDL.
Beane, J. A. (1997), Curriculum Integration: Designing the Core of Democratic Education, New York & London: Teachers College Press. Delors, J. et al. 1996. Learning: The Treasure Within. Paris, UNESCO Priestley, M. (2002) Global discourses and national reconstruction: the impact of globalisation on curriculum policy, The Curriculum Journal, 13(1), 121-138. Priestley, M., Biesta, G., & Robinson, S. (2015). Teacher Agency: An Ecological Approach. London: Bloomsbury Academic. Reeves, J. (2016), Mind the Gap: How should we set about teaching the successful learner? Scottish Educational Review 49(2), 25-42 Sahlberg, P. (2007), Education Policies for Raising Student Learning: The Finnish Approach. Journal of Education Policy 22 (2): 147–171. Scottish Executive (2006), A Curriculum for Excellence: Progress and Proposals, Edinburgh: Scottish Executive.
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