The school curriculum should change to include new topics, and this should involve teachers and school leaders, according to respondents of the latest School Education Gateway survey. The survey found that some topics, such as health and citizenship, are already covered to some extent, but that others – financial literacy and entrepreneurship, in particular – are currently less frequently taught.
School education is under pressure to expand what is taught by adding new subjects to an already crowded curriculum in order to keep up with the pace of change in society. How can curricula cover elements such as citizenship, digital and social-emotional competence without diluting the existing content?
Curriculum expansion refers to the tendency to add new content items to the curriculum without identifying what needs to be removed to maintain balance. It may result in curriculum overload, which in turn may be manifested through:
Content overload: a disproportionate amount of content in relation to the time available for teaching
Perceived overload: teachers’ and/or students’ perceptions of an overloaded curriculum
Curriculum imbalance: a prioritisation of some subjects to the detriment of other curriculum areas
The recent OECD report on Curriculum Overload sheds light on this issue and highlights related challenges such as allotting teaching time, professional development, curriculum redesign and the well-being of both pupils and teachers. How have these pressures to expand the curriculum affected you and your school?
This survey aimed to gauge views on the challenges and solutions identified by teachers and schools in relation to curriculum expansion, and at the same time explore views on curriculum redesign. It was open on School Education Gateway from 25 January to 14 March and attracted 630 respondents from 37 countries, 87% of whom were teachers or school leaders.
The responses suggest that all topics are covered to some extent.
The topics reported to be most frequently covered are physical health, citizenship, social and emotional development, and intercultural awareness, with between 39% and 45% of respondents reporting that the topics are covered to a great or very great extent in their school or a school they know of.
There is considerable, but less, coverage of career development, environmentally sustainable development, social media and dealing with disinformation, and computational thinking, covered in 28% to 30% of respondents’ schools. The two least represented topics are financial literacy and entrepreneurship, found to a very great or great extent in 19% and 24% of schools respectively, and not at all or to a small extent in 53% and 46% of schools.
Again, all nine challenges were represented in the responses. The most important challenge arising from curriculum expansion, with 40% of the responses, seems to be motivating students. Other challenges perceived as particularly important are teachers’ readiness to respond to curriculum change (37%) and teachers’ professional development (34%). Students’ competence development (25%), the necessity of using more/different pedagogical and assessment strategies in the classroom (25%), and the increased size of curriculum documentation and administration (24%) emerge as less important challenges, but only marginally so.
According to participants, the most important solutions for curriculum overload and imbalance are involving teachers and school leaders in the design and implementation process (which 91% rated as very important or important), designing teacher professional development in line with curriculum change to support decision-making (91%), and establishing coherent learning progressions across each grade and educational level (87%). Solutions which appear to be less important are: restricting the number of topics/subjects taught in school to retain breadth and depth of content (73% rated as very important or important), embedding new themes or competences into existing subjects (80% rated as very important or important), and defining the curriculum content for certain grades/ages (77% rated as very important or important).
Very few respondents rated any statement “not very important or “not important at all” suggesting that these are all valid considerations for curriculum designers and policy makers.
Respondents are positive about making changes to the curriculum, with 68% believing that their school curriculum should change, although 21% are concerned about the challenges that this may bring. A further 23% believe that some changes could be made to the content of the curriculum to accommodate new topics. Only a minority maintain that no changes should be made.
The survey results suggest that four topics already feature in school curricula to some extent: physical health, citizenship, social and emotional development, and intercultural awareness. However, other topics – most notably financial literacy and entrepreneurship – are less widely covered, or not covered at all, despite the latter being one of the eight key competences.
The most important challenges arising from curriculum expansion are student motivation, teacher readiness, and teachers’ professional development. To address these challenges, according to the survey results, teachers and school leaders should be more involved in curriculum design, and teachers’ professional development should be taken into account, along with coherence in learning progression across grades and educational levels. These findings seem to be in line with OECD’s recent report on Curriculum Overload, which stresses the importance of students’ motivation, teachers’ and school leaders’ roles, as well as coherence, in addressing curriculum overload.