The curriculum is not a simple word that can be defined; it is a discipline that consists of many factors that ultimately create the curriculum. Upon reading further into this subject, it has become obvious that the curriculum is a complex field and is more likely to reveal that many authors, scholars, academic writers each have a definition describing what the curriculum best means to them or its best definition in the context they discuss. This paper will focus on the Australian Curriculum and will attempt to address issues such as the various definitions of the curriculum, the purpose or goal of the curriculum, how the curriculum is developed, the structure of the curriculum, how the curriculum is influenced by different learning theories, the processes of teaching, learning and assessment and how the curriculum relates to 21st Century learners. Incorporating these factors and understanding this information will allow the reader to formulate his or her own educated definition of the curriculum whilst recognising the primary features which influence learning within our schools.
Definition of Curriculum and its Stakeholders
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Several definitions surround the meaning of curriculum; to get an overview of the definition we can throw relevant words together such as plan, objective, content, subject matter, opportunities, guidelines, framework, experiences or strategies, although in order to make sense of these words and their relationship to the curriculum we must connect these words in a logical pattern. Authors and academics Brady & Kennedy (2010, p.5) simply state "In seeking to understand better the role of the curriculum in the 21st century, the purpose should be to ensure that children and young people are well equipped to handle whatever it is that this century will call them to do and be", in other words, there must be a common interest and a common bond by all those involved, while Marsh and Willis (2007, as cited in Marsh, 2010, p.93) define curriculum as "an interrelated set of plans and experiences which a student completes under the guidance of the school". Other definitions of the curriculum arise, dependant on the stakeholders in question, these stakeholders are people who have an interest in the curriculum, its formation and its delivery. The business community feel that the curriculum must be able to support students in their future employment opportunities while preparing them for the economic needs of society (Brady & Kennedy, 2010) and parent groups are concerned that the curriculum could be manipulated by government bodies for academic analysis instead of concentrating on equipping their children with the appropriate knowledge and experiences for a successful future (Brady & Kennedy, 2010). ACARA (2010c) describes the new National curriculum as "a broad scope and sequence of core learning. Critical decisions about the total educational program and how it will be implemented and adapted to meet the needs and interests of students will be the responsibility of education authorities, schools, teachers, parents and students"
Marsh (2010, p.24) provides a list of stakeholders with whom the National Curriculum Board (NCB), now known as the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) consults
Government - Federal/State Minister for Education, Council of Australian Governments, Premiers, State/Territory ministers, Federal opposition, State/Territory opposition
Education authorities - Government and Non-Government Schools, Australasian Curriculum, Assessment and Certification Authorities (ACACA), Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR).
Professional associations - Unions, Business, Employers
School-based - Principals, Administrators, Teachers, Students
Community - Parents, Parent groups, Parent Associations
Tertiary Sector - Universities, TAFE, Industry training sectors, Academics
From this information it is evident that the curriculum is complex, detailed and is influenced by many groups. Fundamentally, it is a plan that consists of goals/aims, content and achievement standards for each subject to be taught within Australian schools, in other words, the curriculum is a planned description of the what, how and when of teaching, learning and assessment. Understanding the foundation of curriculum, we can now concentrate on the goal of the curriculum - WHO is it for and WHAT do we expect from our education system and for young Australian citizens?
The purpose or goal of the Curriculum and Education
"Curriculum must be of direct relevance to the child's social, cultural, environmental and economic context and to his or her present and future needs and take full account of the child's evolving capacities; teaching methods should be tailored to the different needs of different children" (UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment 1 as cited in Sullivan & Keeney, 2008, p.38).
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In order to understand the goal or purpose of education, we must understand who we are directing our learning to. Acknowledging the diversity of learners will assist in identifying the scope and range of the content to be covered by the curriculum.
Brady and Kennedy (2010, p.38) state "Teachers must examine the curriculum carefully to ensure it does not exclude the diverse experiences that students bring with them to the classroom. More positively, the curriculum should highlight those experiences and make them the basis for discovery and learning". The K-12 National Curriculum is directed towards students developing their knowledge and understanding of the major disciplines - Mathematics, English, Science and History to enable students to further their knowledge and specialise in fields through further tertiary education. Further to this, the curriculum provides the foundation that allows young Australian citizens to deal confidently with issues that arise and enables them to make informed decisions regarding social and personal matters. (EQUITY)
ACARA is responsible for the development of the Australian curriculum from Kindergarten to Year 12. ACARA's work with the Australian curriculum is directed by the 2008 Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians. This declaration commits to supporting learners with quality education and providing them with the skills necessary for future endeavours (ACARA, 2009a). The Australian curriculum will outline the scope and sequence of key learning areas, in other words WHAT and WHEN it is to be taught at schools, although teachers will ultimately make the decision on HOW to organise, structure and deliver this information to benefit each and every student's learning experience (ACARA, 2009b). The educational goals for young Australian citizens focus on creating successful learners such as developing their capacity to be creative, resourceful and motivated individuals, to be able to think, obtain and evaluate evidence, work independently and in teams, be able to communicate ideas, utilise current technology and be able to make informed decisions and gain the necessary skills regarding their learning and employment directions. These goals also aim to create confident individuals by providing the tools that promote a sense of self-awareness to be able to manage all facets of their wellbeing, develop values such as honesty, empathy and respect for themselves and others, form personal, social and professional relationships and have the confidence to pursue further education and training. In addition, becoming active and informed citizens is addressed through the cross-curriculum dimensions, which aim to instil an understanding and appreciation for Australia's indigenous history and diverse culture and sustaining and improving our natural and social surroundings (ACARA, 2009b).
So far we have discussed what the curriculum is and how it can be defined, the major influences on the curriculum's development, namely the stakeholders and the purpose or goals of the curriculum and education. Before we discuss the structure and development of the curriculum, it is important to be aware of where and how the curriculum originated and why the curriculum is structured the way it is.
Structure and Development of the Curriculum
The structure of the curriculum and how it is developed caters for the wide range of stakeholders involved while endeavouring to achieve the best learning outcomes for Australian students. The core-curriculum was developed through the Curriculum Development Centre (CDC) by the former Director, Malcolm Skilbeck in 1980. The 24-page document "attempted to reconceptualise the existing school subjects within a social-reconstructionist framework" (Marsh, 2010, p.11). Even though parts of the core-curriculum were adopted in NSW, WA and NT, the development did not continue due to a lack of funding for the CDC. As the decades passed, many attempts at developing a national curriculum failed to make it successfully through its journey, finally in 2008, under the Rudd Government, a National Curriculum Board (NCB) was created to develop a National Curriculum for students Kindergarten to Year 12, consisting of four Key Learning Areas (KLA's) - Mathematics, English, History and Science, with additional components of general capabilities and cross-curriculum dimensions working alongside these KLA's (Marsh, 2010).
ACARA (2009c) was created to oversee the successful development of the Kindergarten to Year 12 Curriculum, plus the Senior Secondary Curriculum and the Early Years Curriculum Framework. Below outlines the four stages involved in the development of the Australian Curriculum Kindergarten to Year 12.
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Curriculum shaping stage- This involves the development of the draft shape paper, where expert advice is requested and endorsed by ACARA's board for public feedback. This creates the final shape paper, consisting of an outline of the Australian curriculum including design advice for learning areas.
Curriculum writing stage - A team consisting of writers, curriculum experts, and ACARA curriculum staff developing the Australian curriculum. The information includes content description and achievement standards; to achieve this, the team refers to national and international research on curriculum, while also referring to current state and territory curriculums. After public feedback and necessary modifications, the Australian curriculum for the particular learning area is ready for publication.
Implementation stage - Implementation plans are developed by ACARA and state/territory curriculum and school authorities (ACARA, 2010b)
Evaluation and review stage - Implementation feedback is reviewed carefully via processes that monitor this information.
Below is a visual snapshot of the components included in the National Curriculum to be implemented in the year 2011.
Source: (ACARA, 2009a)
Each KLA contains a statement of rationale, aims, content structure and descriptions, and achievement standards.
Statement of rationale - Overview of the particular subject
Aims - What students will achieve from this subject
Content structure/organisation - How the subject is arranged/designed and the information involved
Content description - specifies what teachers are expected to teach for each learning area at each year level, also provides the scope and sequence of teaching
Achievement standards - describes the quality of learning e.g. the understanding, knowledge and skill students are required to achieve at each year level.
While the National curriculum will keep the original structure of scope and sequence for the KLA's, it is evident the new curriculum has become more detailed and involved, by introducing general capabilities and cross-curriculum dimensions in addition to the KLA's, teachers may find it difficult to be able to get through all the required content in the time allocated, while some may require further intensive training to increase their knowledge in certain areas such as History. "Few primary teachers have a sufficient background in History and that they will require concentrated training to develop academic and pedagogical knowledge in History" (Harris-Hart, 2009 as cited in Marsh, 2010, p.26), although ACARA (2010c) states the key focus during curriculum development is on depth of learning and not breadth of learning, so as not to overcrowd the curriculum. Since the Australian Curriculum has been collated from different components of the eight state/territory curriculums currently in operation, they have maintained the KLA's, added general capabilities and cross-curriculum dimensions while keeping the existing structure for sequencing within the learning areas. (REFERENCE) For example, the NSW curriculum comprises of six KLA's for primary school and eight KLA's for secondary school. Below is a visual snapshot of the NSW Primary syllabus.
Source: (NSW-BOS, 2008)
Schools in New South Wales use the Kindergarten to Year 10 Curriculum Framework as the foundation of what, how and when the content is to be taught, although the NSW Board of Studies acknowledges that schools and teachers take responsibility for the way in which the content is organised and delivered (NSW-BOS, 2002a). NSW primary teachers use the NSW Primary Curriculum Foundation Statements to find out what needs to be taught in each subject. The six subjects within the NSW curriculum are English, Mathematics, Science and Technology, Personal Development, Health and Physical Education (PDHPE), Human Society and Its Environment (HSIE) and Creative arts (NSW-BOS, 2002b), while the Australian Curriculum takes into consideration two new components that will enhance the learning process by working alongside the four KLA's, these components are ten (10) general capabilities and three (3) cross-curriculum dimensions. "The ten (10) general capabilities are: literacy, numeracy, information and communication technology, thinking skills, ethical behaviour, creativity, self-management, teamwork, intercultural understanding and social competence. The three (3) cross-curriculum dimensions are: Indigenous history and culture, Asia and Australia's engagement with Asia and Sustainability (ACARA, 2010a).
The Curriculum is a planned description of the what, how and when of teaching, learning and assessment, it is the foundation for learners, students and teachers while being influenced by the many stakeholders that want a share/input in the direction of the Curriculum. The structure and development of the Australian Curriculum includes many components such as teaching, learning and assessment which have focused on the depth of learning not the breadth. Throughout this paper it is also evident that the Australian Curriculum has been influenced by the theories of teaching and learning from several theorists such as Piaget, Bloom, Krathwohl, Vygotsky, Bruner and Maslow's taxonomy. In addition, we must keep in mind that by understanding our students changing nature and their diversities, the Australian Curriculum has the opportunity to be in the forefront of teaching and learning in the 21st Century.