Wednesday, August 26, 2020

What is Curriculum?

Curriculum is a broad concept with seemingly no single, complete definition. “A curriculum is often thought of as an official document that contains all the necessary information to run an education qualification, program or course.” (Schugurensky, 2002, p. 3). In layman’s parlance, it refers to the planned learning in a school or other educational setting. It may sound quite boring, insipid at the first look given its formidable list of official documents but if planned properly, it serves as a considerable impetus to effective teaching and learning. And it is considered to be of paramount importance by many curriculum specialists when it comes to education. “I am convinced that there is no more critical educational issue today than the curriculum.” (Young, 2014). Discussing curriculum, some of the relevant theories come from scholars like Marsh, and Pinar and admittedly, they concede to believing that it is often influenced by a number of variables. Consequently, the presence of some contestable contexts in this discipline has stirred up an incessant debate.

Some of the varying classic definitions of the curriculum are as follows: Tyler (1949) defines it as all of the learning planned and directed by the school to attain educational goals, and Pinar (1975) sees it as a ‘Currere’ wherein the approach to curriculum relies on the personal and social identities and aspirations. Generally, there are four periods in curriculum and the first definition from Tyler comes from the Tylerist period where the curriculum is of prescriptive nature. And the second definition by Pinar comes from the Reconceptualisation period. Petrina (2010) explains, “The method of currere is an autobiographical means to study the lived experience of individual participants in the curricular conversation. The consequence of currere is an intensified subjective engagement with the world.”

Marsh (2009) states, “Curriculum is those subjects that are most useful for living in contemporary society.”  He also declares that “Curriculum is the totality of learning experiences provided to students so that they can attain general skills and knowledge at a variety of learning sites.” He adheres to Neo-Tylerist Period where the curriculum scholars adopt some of the features from the Tylerist period. It is evident from these definitions that he believes a curriculum is planned and standardised. All in all, these definitions shed a great deal of light on the understanding of the curriculum.

There are many factors that influence the understanding of curriculum and that often leads to making it elusive, fragmented and confusing because there are different approaches coming from different schools of thought. Marsh held a view that it is the question ‘what knowledge is of most worth?’ that should be adequately addressed by the curriculum.  And it is no easy to answer this question because a lot many things need to be looked at in so doing. He considers three levels: planned curriculum, enacted curriculum, and experienced curriculum. A planned curriculum is essentially about what knowledge is most worth, the enacted curriculum is the one that teachers practise, and an experienced curriculum refers to the formal learning actually experienced by students.

Walker (2003) asserts that the fundamental concepts of the curriculum include content, purpose and organization. Content refers to the topics and themes that need to be named while the purpose is usually intellectual, social or personal, and lastly, the organization looks into the sequencing and scope of the subject matter. In the words of Longstreet and Shane (1993), the four major concepts of the curriculum are as follows: the purpose of schooling is to serve society (society-oriented curriculum), the student is the crucial source of all curriculum (student-centred curriculum), knowledge is the heart of curriculum (knowledge-centred curriculum), and the belief that various compromises are possible, including mindless eclecticism (eclectic curriculum). These conceptions show the value orientations to the educators. However, Pinar (1995) argues that these conceptions are stereotypes and are of little value.

It must be understood that the curriculum defines what a nation is. It is no less than a nation-building document as it talks about its geography, history, economy, language and literature. Given this, a good many stakeholders are involved in the curriculum like teachers, principals and parents at the school level, and government representatives, curriculum specialists, community leaders and politicians. So ideologically, it is a power struggle because teachers only teach what they are made to teach with a little or almost no say in the curriculum.

It is the people outside the teaching field who influence the curriculum than the teachers and professors resulting in the creation of an undue rift between practice and principle. Curriculum must cater to the students coming from diverse backgrounds. But the presence of such rift makes this unattainable because the curriculum often becomes too centralized and prescriptive.  There is a similar situation in Bhutan. The Bhutanese curriculum is prescriptive in nature and designed from somewhat metropolitan perspective. And more often than not, schoolteachers have to improvise to suit their locations. For instance, in Class II English, the students are to be taught road signs. On the flipside, there are quite a number of schools across the country still in the pockets without motor roads. In these situations, it is the teachers who have to do something to overcome such issues. Worse, the Bhutanese curriculum does not encourage much flexibility and creativity from the teachers. The curriculum in such cases is centralized and it is so in order to ensure quality throughout the country. Interestingly, there is a concern in every curriculum to ensure global competitiveness. The Bhutanese curriculum uses English as the major medium of instruction. Perhaps, this is one way to ensure global competitiveness by making communications with the international community easier. It also helps the Bhutanese curriculum to learn and appreciate the rich knowledge and literature of the world.

There are some perspectives upon a curriculum that bring about arguments. One such is the student-centred curriculum. Under this, it primarily focuses on the student interest and their rights as a part of the teaching and learning process. Although it exists to a certain degree, there is no possibility to see this go a hundred percent anywhere. Next, it is a political perspective. Politics affects the curriculum to a great extent. Politicians induce changes in the curriculum often for political reasons and they somehow put the very purpose of curriculum change and development to foil. And lastly, there is the future studies and curriculum perspective. Despite the uncertainty, the curriculum must be future-oriented to aptly address the pressures and priorities of new times.

The context usually does not change but the approach to teaching and learning does. It is a must to comprehend various definitions and concepts of the curriculum to delve into the world of curriculum theories and perspectives.


Longstreet, W.S. & Shane, H.G. (1993). Curriculum for a new millennium. Retrieved from https://www.pearson.com/us/higher-education/program/Longstreet-Curriculum-For-A-New-Millennium/PGM124633.html

Petrina, S. (2010). Currere: curriculum as method or process. University of British Columbia: Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy.

Pinar, W.F. (1975). Curriculum theorizing: the reconceptualists. Berkeley:  McCutchan.

Schugurensky, D. (2002). The eight curricula of multicultural citizenship education. Multicultural Education. Retrieved from https://scholar.google.com.au/scholar?q=related:X92ZNO1CslgJ:scholar.google.com/&hl=en&as_sdt=0,5&as_vis=1

Tyler, R. (1949). Basic principles of curriculum and instruction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Walker, D. (2003). Book review [Review of the book Fundamentals of curriculum: passion and professionalism (2nd ed.), by H. William]. Retrieved from http://journalofthought.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/19hullreview.pdf

Young, M. (2014). Curriculum theory: what it is and why it is important. Retrieved from


Note: One of my assignments on curriculum. It is supposed to be a mere synthesis of research essays. 

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