Quality Curriculum Design Requires Real TeachersBy PR Guruprasad
One of the most important aims of imparting quality education is to enable children to use lesson concepts in problem solving, particularly in math and science. When we talk about lessons, textbooks continue to be one of the most fundamental teaching resources. But, unfortunately, in countries like India, school textbooks don’t go beyond `standard’ methods of solving problems at the curricular level. What do we need to do if our schools are to implement quality curriculum? This article attempts to answer the question to some extent.
As a teacher trainer in India, I used to present math lesson problems as follows to teachers and ask them to explain how they would solve them `if’ they were children:
Two pens cost $27 each and two pencils, $13 each. How will you find the total cost?
How will you use the number line to find out: 28+13?
There are 38 oranges in one basket and 42 in the other. How will you find the difference in the number of oranges in the two baskets?
Usually, participants never tried any methods outside their textbooks. One main reason for such tunneled approach is the sub standard training that they may have acquired in their teacher training.
In India, we have had many commissions of education coming up with suggestions to reform, followed by some measures. When I look back at the curricular metamorphosis that has been taking place since my student days in the ‘60s and early ‘70s, I find a very obvious shift from quality to quantity. Most Syllabus Boards keep raising the number of lesson concepts to be taught at each grade level (much of which would be repeated year after year to some extent, rather unnecessarily). The textbook publishing industry follow suit immediately without any fuss, as this is an opportunity to increase the number of pages in their textbooks and increase the product price.
Authors seem to welcome the move, as this paves the way for more income. Although many teachers and school principals are not in favor of such a change, their voices are seldom heard (School Education Commissions in India very seldom comprise of practicing school teachers who are skilled enough to suggest viable reforms). Oddly, the situation prevails, and a similar trend is seen in technology-enhanced curriculum as well. There seems to be a notion that education technology can replace activity based classroom processes instead of supporting them.
If we are to aim for a quality-oriented curriculum, we should reduce quantity and needless repetition of concepts. We should instead, include pupil (and teacher) friendly activities to explain lesson concepts and enable children to think creatively and come up with innovative solutions to solve problems that require the use of textbook lesson concepts. Homework, which is one of the most effective means in this direction, is often abused. Our textbooks should be written in such a manner that will help children integrate lesson concepts, wherever applicable, in their day-to-day experiences.
Besides, pupil friendly curriculum is possible only if schools have the required resources and the system considers child psychology in its fullest.
In the United States, many years back, teachers and physicists joined hands to design the Physical Science Study Committee (PSSC) Physics Curriculum, one of the best curriculums ever developed in the history of physics education, for use at the Grades 9-12 level. Many schools couldn’t use the curriculum, as they did not have resources available to implement it. Similarly, in the UK, Nuffield Physics Project was very good, but it could not be adapted in all schools.
Some years later, when technology crept into the school system, a popular math teaching software package known as LOGO was introduced in the US. This also didn’t last long, for a different reason: it overlooked basic principles of child psychology.
In any curricular reform process, replacing of quantity by quality cannot be brought about simply by theoretically discussing changes or by using dilute PowerPoint presentations in elaborate meetings, large conferences and flamboyant symposiums. Draft policy for curriculum changes should be decided after duly involving practicing teachers. These teachers should be given freedom to express problems and recommend curricular changes based on their experience of working with children. The process should include several workshops in which relevant activities are carried out by teachers as well as pupils. Findings from the workshops should be documented honestly and changes should be brought about accordingly.
Most importantly, any revised syllabus should be drafted based on teachers’ objective points of view. The revised syllabus should only be written by practicing teachers and not by retired or currently working university professors as it is normally done, in countries like India, where I come from.
When writing the revised syllabus, important dimensions such as cultural contexts, traditions, available resources, education research evidences and best practices should be considered. In terms of priority, educational resources and child friendliness should top the list of essential requirements of any good curriculum. Once the revised syllabus is finalized, it should be circulated to all schools for implementation. The syllabus should then be fine tuned according to the outcomes of the implementation phase. This is the best approach to develop quality curriculum for all schools.
Panamalai R. Guruprasad is a former school principal settled in Chennai, India. In August 2009, he returned home after completing a one-year placement as Technical Advisor to the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, Government of Cambodia. His main career responsibility was to offer technical support to the Inspectorate of Education in enhancing the overall effectiveness in Planning, Supervision, Monitoring and Evaluation of School Performance at central, provincial and local levels.
Previously PR Guruprasad worked as teacher, principal and education officer in school systems. He served in rural, NGO run urban, as well as corporate school systems. PR has also worked in textbook publishing and educational digital media development companies for nearly 4 years.
PR has worked in South Asia, East Africa, Southern Africa and South East Asia.
He has introduced several innovative and cost effective strategies to enhance the quality of education imparted to children. His published works include 50 articles in teacher journals and a 1000KB ebook entitled “Creative Classrooms and Child Friendly Schools”.