Good learning objectives in the new Afghan curriculum are the key to quality learning resources

Curriculum developers for general education in Afghanistan are on the journey of developing the new curriculum, including learning resources such as textbooks, teacher guides, and parents’ guides. They are supported by UNESCO, which is providing technical advice and expertise on the development of learning resources in line with the draft national curriculum framework for general education and the education reform directions of the Ministry of Education. 

Over the last year, UNESCO has organized several webinars for the Curriculum Development Teams in the Ministry of Education in the times of COVID-19 on a variety of issues pertaining to competency-based textbook development, quality assurance, etc. One of the webinars that was much appreciated by the national curriculum developers and that impacted their work was on the topic of writing effective learning objectives.

Working together with the curriculum development teams at the General Directorate of Curriculum and Professional  Development  of the Ministry of Education, the international and national curriculum experts, developed subject syllabi, completed the quality assurance of the syllabi and re-looked at the learning objectives of draft lessons from science, social science, and English subjects. The experts and national curriculum developers picked up learning objectives from the mentioned subjects and re-worked them.

The webinar built the capacities of textbook authors on key principles of writing effective learning objectives. Special stress was laid on the foundational principle that learning objectives should be specific, measurable, and observable.

There was a discussion on why learning objectives need to be specific, measurable, and observable. It didn’t take much time for the group to deduce that the teacher would easily be able to know what needs to be done in the class and observe if the objectives have been met or not. Measurability will bring in the quantification of objectives and the teacher would know what and how much to expect from the students. Thus, the teacher can easily decide - what to teach? how to teach? and how to assess?

The team re-looked at the learning objectives of existing draft lessons from science, social science, and English subjects and saw the excessive use of the word ‘know’ in learning objectives. For example: ‘at the end of the class, the students will know the effects of heat on the matter’. It was discussed that while the teacher intends that the student ‘knows’ the content after the class but the objective has to be clear on how to verify if the student knows or not. It can only happen if the student ‘explains’ or ‘describes’ the content or can ‘do’ something. That led to the discussion on the tool that usage of certain action verbs like ‘explains’ or ‘describes’ makes the objectives specific, measurable, and observable.

Some examples of action verbs that help to make learning objectives to be specific, measurable, and observable were discussed and demonstrated during the webinar. Benjamin Bloom an American Educational Psychologist classified learning into six levels including Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation, popularly called Bloom’s taxonomy. Curriculum developers have over the years mapped certain verbs to each of the levels of Bloom’s taxonomy.

These action verbs represent some specific levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, for example, the action verbs ‘define’, ‘identifies’, ‘lists’ and ‘labels’ represent a level of learning level that demonstrates students can recall knowledge, facts, and concepts. Moreover, the action verbs like ‘organizes’, ‘implements’, ‘defend’, ‘compares’, ‘distinguishes’ represent a level of learning that shows that students can apply their knowledge to solve problems.

“The webinars organized by UNESCO have improved our understanding of learning objectives and approaches to assessment based on the international best practices.”
Mr. Hazrati

Mr. Jamshed Zaynal, Head of English Department at MoE, also commented:

"The webinar conducted by UNESCO helped me reconsider the learning objectives of the English subject and align them with countries that English is being taught as a second language standard."

The journey of curriculum improvement did not end there; UNESCO is planning a series of generic and subject-specific webinars and online workshops to support the Ministry of Education in Afghanistan in developing context-specific and good quality learning resources for general education in Afghanistan.

The Curriculum Reform activities organized by UNESCO Kabul Office are parts of the “Better Education Systems for Afghanistan's Future” (BESAF) project funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA). The project is providing capacity development and technical support to the Ministry of Education (MoE) of Afghanistan, especially the General Directorate of Curriculum and Professional Development in the development of curriculum framework, subject syllabi, and learning resources like Textbooks, Teacher Guides, and Parent Guides.