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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To Blend or Not to Blend and More Questions to Ask About Blended Learning

Blended learning refers to the delivery of formal education through a thoughtful combination of online learning and delivery of content and instruction with varied degree of student control over time, place, pace and with face-to-face encounter done in a brick-and-mortar setup, such as the school (Staker and Horn, 2012).

There are four main models of blended-learning with differences on how much time or of the content or instruction will be delivered online or done via face-to-face interaction in a normal classroom. These models are the enriched-virtual model, self-blend model, flex model, and rotation model (with more types under it – station rotation model, lab-rotation model, flipped-classroom model, and individual rotation model).

 

A number of studies have been done in various K-12 schools around the world which showed how blended learning had impacted student achievement and the improved the quality of instruction. Classrooms have been flipped to enhance learning and to give more time for practicing of skills in the classroom and for giving high quality and meaningful feedback to learners. The setup of chairs, tables, and computers in the classroom has been dramatically modified to accommodate the various learning stations needed for students to fully experience the positive effect of blended learning.

In the Philippines, De La Salle Santiago Zobel has been utilizing the power of blended learning under their successful Next Generation Blended Learning Program. In my school, while blended learning has not been officially adopted, flipped classrooms have gotten some teachers creating their own instructional videos and using apps such as EdPuzzle. Mr. Keith Sy, one of the Ed Tech champions in our school has created some awesome videos for his Social Studies class. He successfully infused a station rotation setup and at the same time, giving more opportunities for differentiated learning activities to happen. Read some of his experiences with flipped classroom in his blog. Watch a one of his flipped videos about Philippine History here.

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One noticeable observation is that a number of schools have chosen to leverage the use of technology tools to enhance self-directed learning and instruction in students and the need for the teachers to interact with students to provide feedback and to build meaningful relationships with the students through face-to-face interaction. And I believe that the beauty behind blended learning is the big possibility to fuse the possibilities of technology integrated lessons and content delivery  while highlighting and dedicating more time to build relationships with students via face-to-face encounter.

So, while schools chew on the question whether to blend or not to blend, I present some more specific questions that can help stakeholders or members of the school community as they explore this form of education.

  • Why do blended learning? What is the “why” of the school? What are the “why’s” of the various stakeholders? Why now?
  • How will blended learning help students achieve the intended learning outcomes?
  • Are the students, teachers, and parents ready for a blended approach?
  • How will student’s age, readiness or even developmental maturity affect the adoption of blended learning?
  • Which blended learning model is appropriate for students?
  • How will blended learning modify or change classroom instruction, assessment, management, and lesson preparation?
  • What kind of support will teachers need in order to be prepared for the adoption?
  • What kind of resources will the students and teachers need for blended learning to happen
  • Are the stakeholders and members of the community capable of acquiring the technology needed? Are there provisions to help those who may encounter problems regarding the technological tool needs?
  • What new policies will be placed to ensure that blended learning is maximized for the good of all members of the school community?

The promise of blended learning has been slowly realized in schools or institutions that have adopted it. Blended learning is far from being a hype among the members of and stakeholders in the education community. It is here to stay.

 

Reference: Staker, H., & Horn, M. B. (2012). Classifying K-12 Blended Learning. Innosight Institute.