03 SES 05 A, Systemic Curriculum Reform
During transition from socialism to capitalism and from a totalitarian mega-state Soviet Union to a small independent and democratic state, Estonia has faced many changes and reforms which have also shaken its education. The paper discusses the political and ideological changes in the curricula since regaining independence in 1991 from the point of view of globalization and europeanization within the theoretical frameworks of European Didaktik and American curriculum tradition. The research questions are: 1) How has the role and autonomy of teachers changed in the state curricula for basic schools and gymnasiums since 1996? 2) How have the emphases in the curricula changed over the years? 3) How are these changes connected to Didaktik or curriculum tradition?
Estonian education has a historical influence from the German Didaktik tradition through the fact that until 1918 Estonia was ruled for 700 years by Baltic German upper class. The first Estonian born educators that contributed to the national awakening of Estonians at the end of the 19th century, Carl Robert Jakobson (1841-1882), Johann Voldemar Jannsen (1819-1890) and Friedrich Reinhold Kreuzwald (1803-1882) (Karjahärm, 2000) were educated themselves in German language schools (Laar, 2006) modeled by the ideas of humanistic German gymnasiums which adhered to the ideas of Bildung. According to one of Bildung’s forefathers, Johnn Gottfried Herder who pomoted a romantic concept of a holistic education and virtuous life, the important questions of a man’s being and becoming could be answered by the study of history, languages, arts and religion which could as well be managed by self-education (Horlacher, 2004, 420). Wilhelm von Humboldt’s concept of „allgemeine Bildung“ (general education) which serves most the cultivation of mind and spirit as opposed to vocational education (Humboldt, 1792) is also seen as an important characteristic of the humanistic and non-instrumental nature of Bildung. This aspect of Bildung can be nowadays seen as the opposite of narrowly labour-market oriented education that focuses only on usefulness of knowledge and skills.
The Didaktik as the art of teaching developed originally in Germany where teachers had the major role in organizing the learning process, interpreting the state curriculum and in evaluating the learning results of students within the humanistic framework of Bildung (Künzli, 2002, 11; Terhart, 2002, 32). From there, Didaktik as a theoretical framework for teacher education and teacher reasoning has spread in the Nordic countries as well as in Estonia. It is argued that Didaktik through its unified teacher education tradition and teachers’ central role in directing the classroom level curriculum still maintained its influence during the Soviet period (Sarv & Rõuk, 2020), although the curriculum was strongly ideological and highly centralized. Nevertheless, in the past three decades, a new model of reasoning about curriculum and teaching has found its way to Estonia and other countries: the Anglo-American curriculum tradition. One of the main differences between Didaktik tradition and curriculum tradition is a shift from input-based concept of curriculum to emphasis on learning outcomes. Moreover, the role of teachers has developed historically differently within these traditions. While the Didaktik tradition emphasizes the pedagogical freedom of teachers to make decisions in their classroom where the final curriculum will be defined (Hopmann, 2003), the curriculum tradition has been preoccupied with the institutional curriculum alignment and external control of teachers’ work through standardized testing. In its extreme forms, the curriculum tradition has led to the development of „teacher-proof“ curricula as teachers have been seen as the main impediment to reforms (Westbury, 2002; Wermke & Höstfält, 2014).
In the paper, different sources and methods are combined. First, changes in the curricula are observed through qualitative content analysis and critical discourse analysis. They are then compared with other relevant policy documents of the EU and reports of OECD, and finally teachers’ own views of the curricular changes are analysed through qualitative semi-structured interviews. This paper will synthesize the results of teacher interviews which were conducted for different research projects in 2011 (a country-wide study of the perception of teachers on state curriculum revisions which included 50 interviews with basic school teachers), 2012 (a school curriculum study in Estonia) and 2013 (my doctoral thesis about teacher autonomy in Estonia, Germany and Finland). The timing of the interviews is significant because in 2011 the last significant revision of the state curriculum for basic schools and gymnasia was undertaken and schools had to update their school curricula which are required by the state curriculum. The interviews were analysed by the method of qualitative content analysis which combined a deductive, theory driven approach with inductive approach.
The results indicate that in Estonian curricula and also in teachers’ perception a shift from input based Didaktik driven curriculum to learning outcome and competence based Anglo-American type of curriculum has taken place. Although Estonian teachers are in international comparison relatively autonomous, an increased accountability pressure is strongly felt and since the introduction of state exams at the end of the high school, the autonomy of teachers who teach the exam subjects is greatly reduced. The introduction of school based curriculum in Estonia has not been easy as teachers have often not interpreted as increased autonomy to be able to influence the school curriculum but rather an annoying growth of bureaucratic workload. The Estonian state curriculum introduced the concept of competences already in the 1996 version and the number of competences as well as the key competences has gradually grown throughout three consecutive curricula. The influence of europeanization shows in direct linkages with European documents regarding key competences. Generally, the trend towards more instrumental goals of education, often driven by economic necessities as during the last great economic crisis of 2008 can be seen (e.g. the entrepreneurship competence and life-long learning). As a result, one of the perpetuous problems of Estonian curriculum has been an overload of curriculum content and demands on teachers regarding general competences which were perceived as unrealistic and demotivating. Although the state curriculum has since 1996 promoted the curriculum developer role of teachers, the actual focus has been mainly on implementation. Despite efforts to include teachers in curriculum making process, the teacher representatives have often felt that the inclusion has been formal and their suggestions have not been actually taken into account. These problems resonate likely in many countries which is natural in the globalizing world.
Horlacher, R. (2004) „Bildung – a construction of a history Of philosophy of education“ Studies in Philosophy and Education 23: 409–426, 2004. Humboldt, W. (1792) Ideen zu einem Versuch, die Gränzen der Wirksamkeit des Staates zu bestimmen. In: Humboldt-Werke, Ed. A. Flitner/k. Giel, Darmstadt 1966, Issue I, p. 64. Hopmann, S. (2003). On the evaluation of curriculum reforms. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 35(4), 459–478 Karjahärm, T. (2000). Rahvuslik ärkamine. [National awakening] Estonica. Entüklopeedia Eestist. [Estonica. An Encyclopedia about Estonia]. http://stage.estonica.ee/et/Ajalugu/1850-1914_%C3%84rkamisaeg/Rahvuslik_%C3%A4rkamine/ Künzli, R. (2002) The Common Frame and the Places of Didaktik. In B. B. Gunden & S.Hopmann (Eds.) Didaktik and/or Curriculum. An International Dialogue. American University Studies: Peter Lang. Terhart, E. (2002). From "Bildung" to "Learning" to "Experience." Developments in (West)Germany from the 1960s to 1990. In B. B. Gunden & S. Hopmann (Eds.), Didaktik and/or Curriculum. An International Dialogue. American University Studies. Peter Lang. Laar, M. (2006). Äratajad. Rahvuslik ärkamisaeg Eestis 19. sajandil ja selle kandjad. [The awakeners. The national awakening in Estonia in the 19th century and its promoters]. Grenader. Sarv, E.-S., & Rõuk, V. (2020). Estonian Curriculum: Becoming Independent. Pedagogy and Educational Sciences in the Post-Soviet Baltic States, 1990–2004: Changes and Challenges, July, 84–101. https://doi.org/10.22364/bahp-pes.1990-2004.05 Wermke, W., & Höstfält, G. (2014). Conceptualizing teacher autonomy in time and space: A model for comparing various forms of governing the teaching profession. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 46 (1), 58–80. Westbury, I. (2002). Didaktik and curriculum studies. In B. Gundem B., & S. Hopmann (Eds.), Didaktik and/or curriculum. An international dialogue (American University Studies). New York: Peter Lang.
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