03 SES 01 A, Interdisciplinary and Concept-Based Curriculum Issues
Interdisciplinarity has been a political and professional concern throughout the history of curriculum reform in Norway as elsewhere (Lenoir & Hasni, 2016). From the onset of the 21st century organizations such as the UN and OECD have emphasized the need for transversal competences and inter-connected knowledge in order to tackle societal challenges and deal with complex problems. This has intensified the debate about interdisciplinarity in schools’ curricula.
The current concern for interdisciplinarity is reflected in the recent renewal of the National Curriculum in Norway. A core curriculum, the subject curricula, and the distribution of school subjects and allocation of teaching hours per subject constitute the National Curriculum. The renewal process was initiated by the Norwegian Parliament in 2016 and finalized in 2019 to be put into practice in primary and secondary schools in August 2020.
The central intentions of the renewal are expressed in policy documents, leading up to The White Paper Subjects – In-depth Study – Understanding. Renewal of the Norwegian Knowledge Promotion Reform (Report No 28 to the Norwegian Parliament 2015-2016). Here current societal challenges are addressed, linked to sustainability, democracy and citizenship, well-being, and public health. These concerns are now introduced as interdisciplinary topics in the National Curriculum.
The framing is, as the title of The White Paper indicates, a renewal of the previous reform LK6 that introduced a competence based curriculum emphasizing learning outcomes. The overall structure is preserved, as well as the allocation of time and school subjects. The continuity is expressed by substituting the previous abbreviation LK06, with LK20, which designates the renewed curriculum. In a scholarly context we choose to conceive the renewal as a curriculum reform, representing shifts of priorities and the introduction of new didactical/substantive elements. Beside the new interdisciplinary priority, the reform is intended to strengthen learning in individual school subjects by reducing overload and emphasizing core content. At the same time the ambition is to increase the impact of the societal values formulated in the objects clause on all parts of curriculum.
The research question is as follows:
How is interdisciplinarity, as introduced in key policy documents of the Norwegian curriculum reform LK20, positioned and regulated in the new core curriculum and the renewed subject curricula?
In order to make sense of the analyses and interpretations emerging from the research question, the discussion is framed within the broader context of global education policy. The paper refers to the ongoing discussions on 21st century skills (Erstad & Voogt, 2018), the renewed emphasis on school subject knowledge, as expressed in the concept of ‘powerful knowledge’(Young, 2008), the call for a return to values and purpose in education (Biesta, 2009), and the interdisciplinary initiative of education of sustainable development (UNESCO, 2014).
The empirical material is constituted by key policy documents expressing the central intentions of the renewal of the curriculum, and the reformed curriculum (LK20) itself. Additionally, material reflecting the curriculum process is brought in, both correspondence involving the educational authorities, texts from public hearings, and the transcripts of 21 semi-structured expert interviews the researchers have made with key actors in the national curriculum process. Although the new curriculum is of prime interest, all these texts together form discourses that are explored. The overall methodological perspective is reflexive (Alvesson & Sköldberg (2009) and hermeneutical (Ricoeur, 1981), acknowledging researchers´ contribution in all aspects of a research process. The analyses are guided by the researchers´ background in curriculum theory and didaktik (see the sample of references above, for didaktik: Künzli, 2000; Westbury, 2000). This background involves research on the previous reform (cf. e.g. Dale, Engelsen, & Karseth, B. (2011)). Also perspectives from the field of environmental and sustainability education are brought in (Kvamme & Sæther, 2019). A multilevel approach is employed, examining how substantive elements (didactical categories) of the curriculum are framed, positioned and organized within the overall structure. Interdisciplinarity as a key concept is applied methodologically with reference to the typology of Thompson Klein (2017). Interdisciplinarity refers to practices of integration between disciplines, while multidisciplinarity involves the juxtaposition of disciplines without integration between them, and transdisciplinarity transcends the scope of disciplinary worldviews. We examine how interdisciplinarity is related to and regulated by other intentions of LK20, particularly the emphasis on individual school subjects and the priority given to societal values.
We suggest that the central intentions of the renewed Norwegian curriculum may be summed up in the double purpose of focus and integration. This is the context in which interdisciplinarity is positioned and regulated. Focus refers to the call for distinct school subjects. The purpose of integration refers both to the strengthening of the value dimension and the introduction of interdisciplinary issues/topics. Both the values and the interdisciplinary topics/issues are intended to promote connections and inner coherence of the curriculum. They are introduced in the core curriculum and from here they are subject to new recontextualizations in the subject curricula. However, the two purposes establish certain tensions in the new curriculum, granting the focus on the school subjects a privileged status. As a preliminary observation we discern two contesting discourses in the policy texts. A discourse on focus/coherence/connectedness within the individual school subjects seems to be prioritized at the expense of integration between the school subjects. In the reformed curriculum the prime example of this priority is how the school subjects are delegated the function of regulating the distribution of values and interdisciplinary issues in the subject curricula. How the integration between the school subjects is to take place, remains an open question. As a consequence, while LK20 certainly mandates multidisciplinary engagement with the addressed societal issues/topics in question, it is more uncertain whether the new curriculum actually encourages interdisciplinary, integrative or even transdisciplinary approaches. In the larger context of global education policy this study demonstrates how various substantial/didactical elements in current curriculum making to a large extent are regulated by the school subjects. In the Norwegian LK20 this is the case for both the emphasis on competence, knowledge and values – and interdisciplinary issues/topics addressed in this paper.
Alvesson, M., & Sköldberg, K. (2009). Reflexive methodology. New vistas for qualitative research. London: Sage Publications. Biesta, G. (2009). Good education in an age of measurement: on the need to reconnect with the question of purpose in education. Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability, 21, pp. 33–46. DOI 10.1007/s11092-008-9064-9 Dale, E. L., Engelsen, B. U. & Karseth, B. (2011). Kunnskapsløftets intensjoner, forutsetninger og operasjonaliseringer: En analyse av en læreplanreform. Sluttrapport. [The Intentions, Preconditions, and Operationalization of the Knowledge Promotion Reform. Final Report.] Oslo: Pedagogisk forskningsinstitutt, Universitetet i Oslo. Erstad, O. & Voogt, J. (2018). The Twenty-First Century Curricuculum: Issues and Challenges. In J. Voogt, G. Knezek, R. Christensen & K-W. Lai (red). Second Handbook of Information Technology in Primary and Secondary Education (pp. 19–36). Cham: Springer. Klein, J.T. (2017). Typologies of interdisciplinarity: the boundary work of definition. In: R. Frodeman (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity (pp. 21–34). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Künzli, R. (2000). German Didaktik: Models of Re-presentation, of Intercourse, and of Experience. In Westbury, I., Hopmann, S. & Riquarts, K. (Eds.), Teaching as a Reflective Practice. The German Didaktik Tradition (pp. 41–54). New York: Routledge. Kvamme, O. A. & Sæther, E. (2019). Bærekraftdidaktikk – spenninger og sammenhenger. [Sustainabiltiy didaktik – tensions and connections]. Oslo: Fagbokforlaget. Lenoir, Y., & Hasni, A. (2016). Interdisciplinarity in Primary and Secondary School: Issues and Perspectives. Creative Education, 7, pp. 243–2458. Ministry of Education and Research (2015). NOU (Norwegian Official Report) 2015: 8. Fremtidens skole. Fornyelse av fag og kompetanser (The School of the Future. Renewal of subjects and competences]. Ministry of Education and Research. (2016). Fag - Fordypning- Forståelse. En fornyelse av Kunnskapsløftet. [Subjects, In-depth learning – Understanding. A renewal of the Knowledge Promotion Reform]. Report No. 28 to the Storting [Parliament] 2015-2016. Oslo: Norwegian Government Service Centre. Ricoeur, P. (1981). Hermeneutics and the human sciences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. UNESCO (2014). UNESCO Roadmap for Implementing the Global Action Programme on Education for Sustainable Development. Retrieved from https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000230514 Westbury, I. (2000). Teaching as a Reflective Practice: What Might Didaktik Teach Curriculum? In I. Westbury, S. Hopmann, & K. Riquarts, (Eds.), Teaching as a Reflective Practice. The German Didaktik Tradition (p. 15–39). New York: Routledge. Young, M (2008). Bringing Knowledge Back In. London: Routledge.
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