Quest for a Relevant School Curriculum

In the 15th of May 2013, the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013 was signed as a law, which made the Philippines as one of the last countries to adopt a K-12 system in the basic education years. This was a game-changer, not just for teachers, students, and parents, but for the whole country. The then newly adopted K-12 system brought a big promise of developing and forming productive future  members of the society that are ready to take the promises and challenges of a 21st century world.

 

Quick Look at the K-12 Philippine Curriculum

The K-12 curriculum strengthens the early education years and strongly integrates a mother tongue-based approach in teaching and learning from Kinder to Grade 3 years. It also bridges the core skills in the basic education years with the needs of college or university studies. Above all, it aims to make learning relevant to the learners, which is shown in various levels, such as personal relevance in terms of contextualization and personalization, societal relevance, in terms of integrating national and global issues, and of course, in terms of acquiring 21st century skills that can prepare students for the future.

Question of Relevance 

The K-12 was an incredible work from the Department of Education in the Philippines. It was more than a step forward. It was a big leap for the whole Filipino nation, I dare say.

However, the new K-12 system faced numerous challenges and problems, both in the local and national levels, which critically affected its effective implementation. Complaints about teacher readiness, not enough infrastructures and insufficient resources, and teacher compensation among others continue to plague the reform until now. These seeming unpreparedness in its implementation paved the way for a considerable amount of opposition from various groups of teachers, parents, government leaders, and even older students.

While bearing the same sentiments with the rest of the educators in my country, I also can’t avoid but to reflect on the effectivity and relevance of the new K-12curriculum. How relevant is the Philippine basic education curriculum now, given the fact that, with all honesty, the Philippine education system has been lagging behind the more progressive nations for years?

This quick reflection has led me to a more general and broader inquiry, what makes a curriculum relevant?

Quest for Relevance 

In its traditional sense, a curriculum usually refers to a carefully packaged list of topics and skills, learning areas, and syllabi to be taught in various disciples and grade levels. The definition of curriculum and consequently, curriculum design, systematically evolved throughout the years as teaching and learning faced new pedagogies, newer information and skills, and even literacies.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) describes a good curriculum as an essential aspect of learning as it instills in learners life-long skills and competencies, as well as societal attitudes and skills. UNESCO further points out that the relevance of a curriculum also depends on how it supports the learner’s personal development and not just on the academic skills area.

Hence, in checking for relevance, curriculum designers have to consider not just the competencies needed to be taught and learned. Competencies and academic skills must be updated to respond to the needs of the learner and to the demands of the future. 21st century learning skills must be fully integrated in the curriculum, across disciplines, and grade levels. New core competencies such as those in the Information and Communication Technology area, new literacies that focus on sustainable development, and life-long learning skills are to be seamlessly integrated in a relevant curriculum.

Current global and local issues must also be tackled deeply. Terrorism, human rights violations, threats to peace, equality vs equity, environmental issues, and many more issues plague our day to day lives. Yet, how often are these included in the day to day classroom learning? These are some of the key issues right now. A relevant curriculum should mindfully engage the students not just to be aware of these issues, but to take part in finding solutions to national and global issues.

Moving further, how are values integrated in a relevant curriculum? We talk about academic competencies, global issues, and life-long learning. Yet, values, personal, communal, or universal, play a major role in the life and decisions of learners. A relevant curriculum should enable students to clarify their values and to examine them in relation to their personal or the national aspirations.

Questions to Check Relevance

In my quest to examine relevance, UNESCO offers some great questions that educators and stakeholders can use to reflect in the quest for a relevant curriculum for the 21st century world.

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? 

Finally, the relevance of a curriculum should be checked regularly and evaluated systematically, whether it has been responsive to the national education goals, policies, and new challenges that may arise. Hence, monitoring, assessment and evaluation of the curriculum should also be in placed and the data gathered should inform changes, revisions, and improvements in the curriculum.

Quite Personal Thoughts

If I were given the power to change school curriculum, I would add the following in the national curriculum:

    • comprehensive computer education and ICT skills integration that starts in the grade school,
    • STEAM and coding, the language of the 21st century, from Kinder,
    • UN’s Global Goals of Sustainable Development Goals as themes to be discussed across disciples and grade levels,
    • a more competency/ skill based approach to learning,
    • reinforce 21st century learning skills (4Cs) and the integration of the new  literacies, and
    • focus on strengthening the learning of Filipino language as a more dynamic language of progress and unity in the Philippines.

These are my wishes for now and I hope to influence not just school leaders, but the policy-makers.

Sources:

Department of Education. K-12 Features. Retrieved from http://www.deped.gov.ph/k-to-12/features

UNESCO. Curriculum. Retrieved from http://www.unesco.org/new/en/education/themes/strengthening-education-systems/quality-framework/core-resources/curriculum/

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