Curriculum is a systematic and intended packaging of competencies (i.e. knowledge, skills and attitudes that are underpinned by values) that learners should acquire through organised learning experiences both in formal and non-formal settings (See: Different meanings of curricula). Good curriculum plays an important role in forging life-long learning competencies, as well as social attitudes and skills, such as tolerance and respect, constructive management of diversity, peaceful conflict management, promotion and respect of Human Rights, gender equality, justice and inclusiveness. At the same time, curriculum contributes to the development of thinking skills and the acquisition of relevant knowledge that learners need to apply in the context of their studies, daily life and careers. Curriculum is also increasingly called upon to support the learner’s personal development by contributing to enhancing their self-respect and confidence, motivation and aspirations.
In addition, there are many new and emerging challenges to education and demand on curriculum, such as new Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs); intercultural understanding; Sustainable Development; Learning to Live Together (LTLT); HIV and AIDS; Life skills; Competency development for life. Through their guiding function for education agents and stakeholders, clear, inspired and motivational curriculum documents and materials play an important role in ensuring education quality. Curriculum is implemented by teachers, and depends moreover on the quality of teaching and learning strategies, learning materials and assessment. The process of implementation of the curricula and the related issues are dealt in a number of Analytical Tools which form the UNESCO General Education Quality Analysis/Diagnosis Framework (GEQAF) of which this Analytical Tool is just one. This Analytical Tool is intended to support national education authorities (i. e. decision shapers/makers; curriculum specialists; teacher trainers; assessment specialists) to carry out a critical scanning of their curriculum "system" with a view to identifying the strong elements to be built upon, as well as the weaknesses/ shortcomings that hinder education quality.
The paramount question for this analytical Tool is whether or not the curriculum we have in place enables us to impart on our learners the kinds of competencies (i.e. knowledge, skills and attitudes that are underpinned by values) we require for the type of society we envision to build and the challenges people have to face now and in the future. The paramount question can be addressed by assessing the alignment of the curriculum to national development goals, the effectiveness of curriculum policies as well as the development, design and planning of the curricula.
Monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of the curricula and its responsiveness to new challenges and requirements is also a critical element which needs to be assessed. The diagnosis and analysis section below raises some key questions in each of the stages of the curriculum development and implementation process to support a structured discussion of the major issues regarding curricula and its effect on education quality.
Diagnosis and analysis
Development relevance of curricula
1. What does the country/community want to achieve with regard to the personal development of learners and societal well-being and advancements? And how well the curriculum reflects that education vision?
2. What are the mechanisms for making the curricula to respond to national development policies and strategies? Is there evidence that the mechanisms work effectively?
3. How well are the key/core/cross-cutting competencies identified in the curricula aligned to education policy goals? Is there evidence that such key competencies have been at the core of curriculum development?
4. How are education stakeholders (teachers, learners, private sector, civil society) involved in developing the curriculum vision and appropriate curriculum policies? Is there evidence of their involvement having made a difference?
Curriculum planning, design and content
1. Is there evidence of curriculum development being effectively led and guided in accordance to the set education/curriculum vision and quality standards (i.e. Are there publicly-known and recognized curriculum institutions/agencies and leaders of curriculum processes; Are there guidelines developed for guiding the process of curriculum design, writing, piloting, implementation and revision? Are those guidelines taking into account the results of curriculum evaluation processes? Is the curriculum laid down in a set of public documents, such as curriculum frameworks; syllabuses (subject curricula); textbooks, teacher guides; assessment guides? How are stakeholders involved? (See: Common curriculum framework in Bosnia and Herzogovina)
2. What evidence exist that curricula are grounded on up-to-date concepts of, and approaches to learning and that the learning content is well selected and organised? For example, is there an emphasis on learner-centredness and comprehensive/holistic learning; Are there broad Learning Areas and subjects that cater for meaningful continuity and inter-linkages, balance and curriculum integration; appropriateness to age/ stage of development; core curriculum and differentiated curricula; How are ICTs and e-learning considered for improving the quality of curricula and learning? (See: What makes a quality curricula?)
3. How well are cross-cutting & emerging issues covered in the curriculum? For example, what are "current" issues to be addressed; How to incorporate issues such as gender equality; HR and citizenship education; ESD; LTLT – peace education, intercultural understanding; HIV and AIDS; Life skills; preparation for life and work; How to keep the curriculum open and flexible in addressing new/emerging issues? (See: Viet Nam textbook review)
4. How do you keep a balance between the need of providing basic skills (i.e. reading, writing, numeracy); the need of imparting relevant knowledge in different subject areas; and the need of addressing cross-cutting and emerging issues, such as LTLT and ESD? (See: Defining the curriculum content and Botswana curriculum framework)
Curriculum implementation, monitoring and evaluation
1. What is the evidence that teachers and students play an effective role in defining and implementing the curriculum (i.e. how well teachers are trained and understand the curriculum; whether teachers can participate in curriculum development processes; whether teachers are prepared to take on new roles, i.e. teachers as facilitators; advisors, moderators; curriculum developers; students as participating in selecting and structuring their learning activities) What is evidence that curriculum implementation is supported by enabling learning environments?
2. What is evidence that schools make efforts to improve their learning environments? (i.e. Communication strategies; Student participation; Enhanced access to learning facilities and resources; Counselling; School ethos and Aesthetic)
3. How well are assessments aligned to the goals of the curriculum? What elements pertaining to assessment have hindered curriculum implementation and hence education quality?
4. Is there evidence of a country-wide system of monitoring and evaluation of curriculum processes? Has it been used for continuous development of the curricula? What is the evidence that evaluation of curricula and associated textbooks have influenced curriculum & textbook revision?
5. What actions are taking place to frame future developments in the realm of learning and curriculum? (i.e. National and/or international curriculum research projects; National curriculum conferences; Forums and Task forces set up to define forward-thinking curriculum policies)
Priorities for action
- What are the key areas and binding constraints to be addressed urgently to achieve major improvements in the quality of our curricula?
- What are the knowledge gaps which need to be filled for an evidence-based policy and practice of curriculum development?
- What are the required actions to deal with the priority constraints and the identified knowledge gaps?