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Daiva Stalnionyte/BA (Hons) Professional Studies

BA (Hons) Professional Studies

Module 1
Curriculum Studies

Towards a Learner’s Curriculum

Module tutor Trudie McNeill

Daiva Stalnionyte

Daiva Stalnionyte/BA (Hons) Professional Studies

The most significant contributing factor to personal success can be attributed

to Education, and most individuals will experience more than ten years of

study before reaching adulthood. Schools, Colleges and Universities follow an

organised curriculum specifically designed by educators to provide

set learning paths for students. The task of improving and creating new

curriculum is an ongoing process. “More recently the Qualifications and

Curriculum Authority has announced its intention to promote a broad debate

about how the curriculum for schools in England can best adapt to changing

needs and demands.” (ATL 2005, page 7).

This essay highlights various definitions of the curriculum and demonstrates

how different curriculum theoretical models fit in today’s education particularly

in vocationally related teaching and learning. In addition, it evaluates factors

affecting curriculum control and highlights the changes required for curriculum

to be effective to meet demands of today’s society.

To be able to appreciate how curriculum and its models reflect in today’s

education, there must first be an understanding of different definitions of

curriculum that have been used for many years.

Throughout the years content of curriculum has been influenced by many

thinkers and philosophers who seriously influenced schooling in Western

civilisation. The historical aim of education was for a man to become a better

man (ATL 2007). Being a better man was described as educated with aims to

use his knowledge as power in his adult life. Formal education can be tracked

back to the Egyptian Civilisation (3000 BC) and curriculum in those days was

described in a form of academic subjects and was known as knowledge-

Daiva Stalnionyte/BA (Hons) Professional Studies

based. The word curriculum originally came from Latin which means

‘racecourse’. In Education today this could be interpreted as students studying

their programme to achieve a qualification.

"The curriculum debates of the past 5,000 years have primarily been around

the issues of general versus vocational programmes, what people do, against

an ideal of what they should be" (Historical Context of Curriculum Change

Resource Pack page 11). Since then, many definitions of curriculum have

evolved, however, their interpretations vary.

Smith (1996) described curriculum in a range of approaches. One of them is

linked to syllabus or a body of knowledge to be transmitted. He also stressed

that curriculum is a set of objectives, where there is a drawn-up plan to apply

intended objectives with a measurable outcome. Another alternative definition

is that curriculum is a student’s total experience. It comprises teachers’ and

students’ communication and relationships between them. Smith also

recommends that curriculum is one’s ability to apply theory to practice.

Clearly all of these definitions are somehow applied in today’s curriculum

context. However, there have been endless debates regarding the relevance

and suitability of present curricula to the society and the culture the learners

belong to. Will it serve the needs of the learners of the twenty first century?

Does curriculum evolve with the times and does it offer students the

knowledge and skills required to fully function in today’s world?

Marsh (2004) suggests that any definition gives insight about the main

characteristics and emphases of curriculum. One of his definitions notes the

Daiva Stalnionyte/BA (Hons) Professional Studies

significance of ‘permanent’ subjects such as grammar, mathematics, reading,

logic and literature of the Western world which represent necessary

knowledge. This has been known as the "knowledge-based curriculum". This

model of curriculum has been implemented in most schools. An example of

this could be the National Curriculum which has specific content subjects with

specific goals for student achievement. It is essential to remember that

subjects and syllabus need to be adjusted to fit current culture and the

society. Griffith (2000) views that knowledge-based curriculum would not

survive on its own if it is dependent on time and space.

One of the most traditional and most commonly used models is "content or

syllabus-based". Blenkin et al (1992) suggest that curriculum is delineated into

subjects and delivered through a bulk of knowledge-content. Education, he

states, is the route where these can be transferred to students using efficient

teaching and learning methods. This type of curriculum emphasises students

attending schools to learn subject-specific facts. It also helps to use this

model in assessment process where students, according to their gained

qualification can be grouped in to high and low achievers. Furthermore, it

dictates what route a student will be able to take. Students with high grades

traditionally would be expected to progress to universities, where less

successful students would be advised to take a non academic route (i e. study

a vocational programme or gain employment elsewhere). It is interesting to

note that most of the employers are not as interested in a depth of ones’

subject knowledge but more on practical skills such as problem solving,

analysing, evaluating, self-reflection and self discipline which are directly

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related to work (Ross 2000). However, this does not discount the fact that

subject-based curriculum will always have a place in education.

People will need to be able read, write and calculate. One should also be

aware of one’s culture and history, explore facts about different places,

experience the arts and learn about spiritual qualities as well as academic

subjects. Content-based curriculum covers these, but emphasises the

delineation of subjects. Further more, it aims to acquire the knowledge and

does not take into account any other learning experiences. It is an end-in-itself

curriculum and education process is known as knowledge-based (ATL 2005).

Another definition by Marsh (2004) is that curriculum is a variety of learning

experiences where students gain general skills and obtain knowledge in

different learning sites. This definition concentrates more on learning and

learning skills rather than teaching. It also values the practical skills gained

from other learning sites other than from school alone. This particular

approach to curriculum has been supported by employers requiring vocational

skills and other vocationally oriented groups which support this type for

curriculum for economic reasons. Since it is dependent on the end-product of

learning, which would be specific skills, it has been known as the "Product

model". Education providers such as Further Education Colleges or private

training centres delivering vocational programmes have adapted this

approach and gear their curriculum on the necessary skills needed in the

specific jobs. Part of the curriculum for these programmes is delivered in

classroom situations where students gain knowledge required for particular

skills. However, such practical skills are introduced and gained in either work

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placements or realistic working environments. This approach allows students

to link education with employment in more realistic ways and provides a

broader understanding of the nature of work. For example, hospitality and

catering students in Croydon College go on work placements either in hotels,

restaurants or any quality catering establishments as part of their course and

gain the necessary experiences there that build up their knowledge and skills.

Feedback from students and course evaluations suggests that relevant 'hands

on' experience gained from work placements could prove vital in being able to

demonstrate the real skills required for future employment. It has been noted

that most students value this method of learning more than basic

theoretical input from teachers. This way of thinking and viewing education as

more product-oriented has been influenced by American writer Ralph W. Tyler

(1949). He believed that people need to learn not for any other reason but to

be able to work and live their lives. He lays emphasis on four key questions:

what are the intentions of the educational organisation, what experiences can

be provided for students to meet the organisation’s aims, how can all the

experiences be arranged effectively and how can they be evaluated to ensure

the outcomes were met. The advantages of Tyler’s approach are that product

model avoids vague general statements of intent. It also makes assessment

more specific and helps to select and arrange content.

Smith (1996) suggests that product model of curriculum makes teachers

aware of different styles and levels of learning involved in particular subjects.

However, he states, that this method has been criticised as discouragement

of creativity for the teacher and learner. Having preset objectives will not allow

learners to achieve their full potential. Grundy (1987) in his definition

Daiva Stalnionyte/BA (Hons) Professional Studies

describes curriculum as “A programme of activities (by teachers and pupils)

designed so that pupils will attain so far as possible certain educational and

other schooling ends or objectives” (page 11). In line with Tyler’s approach, it

is suggested that this type of model works well for vocational courses as it

intends to assist young people to find work after concluding their education.

Vocationally- related programmes have been taken by many as a popular

route since the late 1970s when John Callaghan (1976), in his Ruskin speech,

raised his concerns about the school levers’ level of skills. He stressed that

there were many complaints from the industry of newly-qualified workers who

do not have the basic tools to do the job (ATL 2005). Since then providers of

further education have been held responsible for vocational curriculum

programmes and made more accountable for student achievement.

Another way of looking at curriculum is to view it as process. This type of

more holistic perspective of learning is now being supported by many

educators. Curriculum as Process could be viewed not as a physical thing, but

rather the interaction of teachers, students, and knowledge. Further more,

curriculum is what essentially happens in the classroom and what people do

to prepare and evaluate the experiences. The focus is placed on interactions.

This can mean that attention moves from teaching to learning. "Teachers

enter particular schooling and educational situations with an ability to think

critically in-action an understanding of their role and the expectations others

have of them, and a proposal for action which sets out essential principles

and features of the educational encounter” (Smith 1996, page 19). However

some theorists have raised their concerns that process model ignores the

need of united standards of teaching to ensure quality. This approach to the

Daiva Stalnionyte/BA (Hons) Professional Studies

theory of curriculum, Smith states, places meaning-making and thinking at its

core and treats learners as subjects rather than objects. It can also lead to

very different means being transferred in classrooms and a high degree of

range in content. Another major problem has been raised that this type of

curriculum heavily relies on the quality of teaching staff and depth of their

skills. If the teachers are not up to this, then there is a restriction to what can

happen educationally (Smith 1996). For example, some of hospitality teachers

in Croydon College are obliged to undertake teaching subjects that they are

not specialists of and in result it could affect learners’ experience.

Extension of a process model is praxis (practice) model. Practice is often

described as the act of doing something and focuses not just on individuals or

the group alone, but pays careful attention to the way in which individuals and

the group create understandings and practices, as well as meaning (Smith

1996). In addition this model is known as having a close relationship between

action, reflection over action and new action (Afdal 2005). In another words,

learning is evaluated and put in to practice in a new situation. In addition,

teachers as practitioners are expected to influence curriculum by being

actively involved in peer observation and assessment and share good

practice and experience with others. Lindeman describes praxis model as

‘education for use’ (1944: 103). NVQ and BTEC programmes can be viewed

as combination of product and praxis models.

Many adults decide to go back into education to enhance their learning and

become more competent in order to achieve higher earnings in more lucrative

employment. They do not necessarily go to college or university, as some

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courses can be quite lengthy and certain people may feel alienated being

"back at school". Alternative routes to gain competencies are well promoted

by the government. For example, apprenticeship programmes and Train to

Gain initiatives allow young people and mature adults to achieve their

qualifications whilst they are at work. In addition, it allows mature learners to

take further steps to progress their career and improve self esteem. Learners

on Train to Gain programmes are full time employees and gain their

qualifications through assessments in the workplace. This method is very

favourable amongst the learners; however, it questions its value. For example

management of Croydon College is under pressure for ‘high demand

achievement numbers’ therefore quality of learning and teaching is

compromised. Assessors are overloaded with high number of candidates to

meet college demands. The question must be asked, to have high

achievement rates in colleges does this mean that learners had fulfilled their

needs and had positive educational experience? Train to Gain initiative is a

perfect example of product model functioning ineffectively without support of

other curriculum models. Very opposite, full time students of NVQ and BTEC

programmes are allowed to spend one full day a week to learn about

employment in the Hospitality and catering industry as they develop skills that

can help them in that prospective career. A variety of educational strategies

such as independent research and hands-on experience expose them to the

realities of the industry. Enthusiasm for the course is sustained by regular field

visits to local hotels and restaurants, including trade shows and exhibitions.

They study subjects such as front of house operations, customer care,

promotions and marketing using real customers in the real environment. They

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also get familiar with contemporary cuisine including authentic recipes and

menus used in today’s catering industry. It is acknowledged that visiting

places familiar to them due to cultural factors lifts their self-esteem and

cultural pride. To support their learning students are also actively involved in

planning and monitoring their own learning and development. They set their

own targets, review them and with teacher’s support develop further action

plans to reach their goal. This demonstrates that although vocational

programmes are mainly known as product model based, there is evidence of

process and praxis models. In designing an appropriate course curriculum, an

essential process needs to be considered including which curriculum model is

most suitable for the needs of the learner.

It is evident that any curriculum definition one way or another puts emphasis

on the learning process, gained knowledge and skills, subject content and

students’ comprehensive learning experience. The process of learning is as

important as the content learned (Newby 2005). This statement summarises

that any curriculum model on its own can not be fully functional and effective

to gain full potential of learning experience.

Currently, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, (ATL 2006) proposes

changes in the National Curriculum of the United Kingdom. The curriculum

model proposed should start with the pupil in mind – his needs and interests

and should be designed in terms of the skills and attitudes educators would

want pupils to pursue and develop. Emphasis of the curriculum must be

transferred from being knowledge-based to being skills-based to adequately

prepare them for more work-based learning in the future. More than content,

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learners must be engaged in various learning processes – "how to discover

things, make sense of them, package them in different ways, and put

knowledge to use in a wider variety of forms and for more, and more diverse,

functions" (Newby 2005, p. 298). Ways of knowing will be given much

significance rather than the knowledge itself. He continues that the processes

of learning will be no less important than the content learned.

Over the years the balance between what and how has not been reached and

the same question as what curriculum should look like to meet everyone’s

needs is still ongoing. There is also a debate has been for years about who

should decide what should be learned. There are numerous individuals and

groups, because of their professional status are in power to make decisions

about what is taught, when and how. Alongside decision makers are people

who influence those decisions. ‘Influences’ are those groups or individuals

who have common interests to convince authorities of particular change

(Marsh 2004). Each group have their own ideas and agenda. Marsh has

developed a list of decision makers and influences and grouped them in line

with their involvement and level of influence. On the top of the list of the

decision makers are politicians, superintendents, state departments and

assessment boards. Politicians being on the top of the list have the interest of

the state and its economy as well as raising national literacy and numeracy

standards. Teachers, parents and school councils are very influential in

decision making and as Marsh (2004) suggests need to work together.

However, he states, many parent groups are under-represented due to social

economic status and of minority ethnic groups.

Daiva Stalnionyte/BA (Hons) Professional Studies

John Callaghan’s (1976) speech had a massive influence in decision making

regarding education in England. In particular, it had an impact on Further

education colleges. For years the sector was regarded as not functioning very

well; students’ retention and achievement rates were very low compared with

all other sectors of education. Three years ago, David Bell, chief inspector of

schools at the time, called further education colleges "a national failure" (Ryan

2007 The Guardian). The Government had to step in and assess the

weaknesses that effected learning and achievement. More pressure was

placed on how colleges were managed. Consequently management had to be

involved in target setting, quality control, setting up systems for measuring

students’ performance, analysing data and making recommendations. In

result, Ryan states, success and achievement rates by year 2000 improved

by 20%. One may argue that if the achievement rates are excellent and

colleges gain their ‘good name’ back does that mean that curriculum has been

adapted to meet learners needs or is that this curriculum suits government’s

agenda to demonstrate successful national educational system. Train to Gain

initiative can be used as an example where politicians steer education to

ensure that work force is educated to a minimum of level 2 qualifications.

There is a conflict between two parties. Whilst Government is busy

announcing outstanding achievements teachers and assessors play the

administrator’s-technician’s role to ensure all documentation is completed to

the standard required by Learning and Skills Council. There is another

question needs to be asked whether such a Government’s initiative has any

value to the learner.

Daiva Stalnionyte/BA (Hons) Professional Studies

Curriculum today has gone a long way. Educators have come up with a

variety of curriculum models to suit their philosophy. Over time, many

considerations were emphasised in each of the curriculum models. However,

what stands out is the concept of what or who controls or directs the learning

in pursuit of knowledge and acquisition of skills. Content based or syllabus

models focus on depositing much information on the learner. Much rote

memorisation is entailed in order for learners to regurgitate back knowledge.

Teachers are in control of the curriculum. Thus, the process of gaining such

knowledge may be limited to teacher-directed means. The learner becomes a

passive recipient of learning. Kelly (2004) analyses this type of approach as a

demand to accept the value of the knowledge itself rather than the way in

which a learner may approach and view it.

On the other hand, sharing the reins of control by involving students in a more

hands-on practical approach to learning is sure to keep them motivated

especially if the experiences consider their culture and the community they

are part of. Being an active participant in the learning process makes it more

relevant and meaningful to the learner. Such a curriculum is being endorsed

nowadays by government, as people see the value of the process of learning

in order to derive the products, which are knowledge and skills. The learner

not only gains information, but many learning skills such as problem-solving,

analysis, decision-making, socialisation skills and many more which are

essential skills they would be using when they go out to the real world to

survive on their own.

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Going back to the question previously asked in this paper, "Does the

prevalent curriculum serve the needs of the learners of the twenty first century

and empower them with the knowledge and skills required to fully function in

today’s world?" The answer lies in government priorities. Educators need to

design their curriculum and the learners to voice their needs who acquire

much learning from it. Teachers as practitioners should be involved in

designing of curriculum. They are the professionals who have interest of both,

organisational goals and the learner’s needs. Teachers are the ones who can

equip learners with new skills required in today active and complicated

society. Skills like decision and sense making and problem solving needs to

be included in curriculum. This kind of curriculum aims to prepare young

people for the future and is viewed as experimental, progressive, learner’s

curriculum (ATL 2005). "The vocationally-focused, narrowly-instrumental

curriculum in which secondary pupils acquire particular skills in readiness for

particular jobs will become an anachronism. Instead, skills of adaptability will

be needed, preparing them to take on a wide variety of different occupations".

(Newby 2005, p. 298)

If learners are sent out into the workplace fully prepared with appropriate

knowledge and skills that they can then apply confidently, with the desire to

grow and develop further, then much of that success and empowerment can

be accredited to the quality of teaching provided under the guidance of a well

constructed and targeted curriculum.