Making the curriculum relevant to societal needs
Elliot Ziwira @ The Book Store
Although no single definition may be said to be holistic in the explanation of the complex phenomenon known as curriculum, it can be simply referred to as a course of study or plan for what is to be taught in an educational institution (Wiles, “Bondi in Curriculum Development: A Guide to Practice”, 1998).According to Gatawa in the book “The Politics of the School Curriculum: An Introduction” (1990), the curriculum is general in nature, for it encompasses all societal speculations about knowledge and what constitutes it. Knowledge should have a basis as determined by society.
The body of knowledge that a society draws from should imparted on the individual in such a way that he/she will be able to use the same knowledge to evoke his own untapped inherent knowledge so that he/she not only improve himself but the society that shapes him/her.
Because it is generally tailored towards some definite direction or purpose where goals considered by society to be appropriate are achieved, the curriculum can therefore be said to mirror both the social and political aspects of society.
The curriculum has purposes, aims or objectives which reflect general societal aspirations. Society plays a significant role in determining what is considered worthwhile knowledge, desirable attitudes and relevant skills.
However, because knowledge is dynamic as it constantly changes with the coming on board of new truths in the ever changing universe, policymakers should always be privy to any shift in expectation, so that what is considered as knowledge remains relevant to societal needs.
As posited by Gatawa (1990) and Wiles, Bondi (1998) citing the educator Pestalozi (1746-1827), the curriculum is not all about shaping an individual to be an intellectual, but he or she should be able to use his/her head, heart and hands, as such it should embrace cognitive, affective and psychomotor objectives. The curriculum through its elements syllabi, courses and lessons or lectures should develop a complete individual who is able to think outside the box.
For the interrelatedness of the phenomena curriculum, syllabi, courses and lessons to be explored in depth, it is imperative that curriculum objectives are laid bare.
Cognitive objectives refer to intellectual tasks such as remembering, recalling and classifying. These objectives are essential in that they shape the individual to be more than a philosopher but one who is able to offer solutions to problems that affect society; be they educational, commercial, industrial, social or otherwise.
The tendency to develop individuals who cannot think beyond bookish learning is as tragic as it is illogical. Not that it is bad, but it is rather tragic that degree-offering institutions are increasing by the year, but the quality of graduates spewed at the end of the academic conveyer belt leaves a lot to be desired.
Having battalions of graduates with Bachelors’ and Masters degrees as well as PhDs will not help any nation win the war against poverty, mismanagement, bad governance and corruption if the curricula used are divorced from societal expectations.
Effective objectives should be set out which appeal to the emotive outlook of the individual. He/she should be taught not only to think about himself/herself but to consider others in whatever decision he/she makes. He/she has to be taught from an early age that a country will never be a nation if individuals alienate themselves from society through deceit, chicanery, individualism and avarice.
Because the individual is shaped by society as “society should be present in the individual” (Durkheim, cited in Haralambos and Holborn, 1994) he must be able to embody such societal values and norms like morality and love.
The individual who puts his hands in the national treasure trove will not consider the fact that he/she will run aground a whole nation because of such heinous action if he/she has never been taught the essence of patriotism. In his/her warped mind and an ego massaged by bookish learning, the individual may erroneously think that he is more knowledgeable than others if whatever he/she learns is not constantly censored through societal input.
Knowledge becomes a bane if it is only used to pamper egos without changing mindsets.
Psychomotor objectives are inspired by the fact that an active body is mother to an active mind. Muscular or motor skills, according to Gatawa (1990) are important in the development of an individual, hence their inclusion in the curriculum.
This aspect of the curriculum is, however, not well understood by parents and teachers alike as “the quality of the school curriculum is always measured against student successes in public examinations” (Gandawa, 1990) and not their competence in extra-mural activities and personal development.
The concept of psychomotor must be inculcated in learners, teachers and parents so that they fully understand what it entails, rather than leaving everything to chance.
In Zimbabwe it is the Government through its policymakers that determine the design off the curriculum to be used in schools and other State-controlled institutions of higher learning. Thus, the designing of the curriculum has political connotations as it tends to follow political traits. This is especially so because the colonial structure of education tended to be biased against the black majority. It is such bias which puts the curriculum in constant motion as there is need to perpetually monitor it.
However, though much has been done since Independence, the colonial hangover seems to linger on in our education system which somehow impedes development. There should be a shift from developing employees to sharpening potential employers who can create opportunities for themselves in today’s global village.
Policymakers should go beyond the curriculum and its attendant aspects but should develop the necessary infrastructure so that what may be purported to have been learnt must actually be learnt; practically, psychologically, theoretically and emotionally.
However, because of political control of the education system, policymakers “are distanced from the chalk-dust of the classroom and regard as curriculum the chain of documents they send to schools” (Gandawa, 1990).
Because of this generalisation or broad scope of the curriculum by policymakers a need arises for the localisation and focusing of this general aspect into specific ones through engagement with citizens whose children are meant to be beneficiaries so that well structured syllabi for particular subjects or courses are laid out.
In exploring the role of the curriculum in institutions of higher learning, Candlin (1984) maintained that the curriculum is concerned with generalising statements about language and communication but a course or subject on the other hand is more localised and normally indicates what is supposed to actually happen in the classroom as teachers and learners apply the curriculum. It is imperative to note that a course or subject does not operate independently of the curriculum.
This interrelatedness between the curriculum and the concept course is probably purveyed in White (1988), when he maintains that the curriculum refers to the totality of the content to be taught and the aims to be realised in the entire context of the educational environment, whereas a course refers to an individual subject or specialised area of study in the curriculum.
In institutions of higher learning the curriculum is determined not only by social forces or the defining traits of what constitutes knowledge or lack thereof, but by human growth and development. It suffices that societal concerns about knowledge are merged with commercial, economic, and industrial concerns which determine the competence of the individual required to captain education, commerce and industry, as technology is in constant motion, and mores and values are always in a state of flux.
For learning to be effective as a vehicle for ferrying the concerns espoused by the curriculum as informed by societal consideration and mirrored in individual subject structures it should follow a learning process which incorporates both the needs of the learner and those of the teacher, who functions in loco parentis, so that society becomes the ultimate winner.