Curriculum Development needs Teachers who represent The Teaching Community at Large

Illustrative photo by pixabay.com
Illustrative photo by pixabay.com

A written curriculum is a bunch of words on paper. It depends on the teachers how the ideas behind the words work in class. The Estonian case shows that although teachers are involved in preparing curriculums, they do not really experience curriculum ownership.

Researchers from the University of Tartu and Tallinn University gathered data by interviewing 34 teachers from Estonia. The teachers were of different age, taught various subjects and had diverse work experience. 11 of them had also participated in the development of the national curriculum (NC), 23 only in preparing school curriculum (SC).

Rain Mikser, senior research fellow at Tallinn University School of Educational Sciences, said that the question of teachers’ curriculum ownership is urgent because in other European and Asian countries, even in Australia, it has been seen that although education policy and documents have given teachers more liberty, teachers do not perceive to have greater freedom of decision. “Basically, legal and psychological ownership are in conflict,” Mikser explained.

Edgar Krull, professor of general pedagogy at the University of Tartu Institute of Education, added that the development of a curriculum has many facets but bringing out the opinions and visions of the concerned parties is a great step. “It may often be that the expectations of teachers and society at large differ greatly and this can cause tensions,” he said.

Rain Mikser (on the left), senior research fellow at Tallinn University School of Educational Sciences and Edgar Krull (on the right), professor of general pedagogy at the University of Tartu Institute of Education

Rain Mikser (on the left), senior research fellow at Tallinn University School of Educational Sciences and Edgar Krull (on the right), professor of general pedagogy at the University of Tartu Institute of Education

Vague Responsibility

The interviews revealed that teachers would like to decide more but at the same time they tended to doubt. They would like to be free in their decisions but they cannot see any opportunities to exercise this freedom, Mikser explained. The reason may be in the standardised educational policy that forces teachers to focus on measurable learning outcomes in terms of subject content (e.g., PISA tests, state examinations), and thus neglect wider aims and the cross-curricular aspects of education.

A big problem is the lack of overt responsibility for curricular decisions. Krull mentioned that it is often difficult to identify the names of responsible working group members afterwards, although this information should be publicly available.

What is more, teachers who participated in the development of NC did not consider themselves representatives because most of them did not represent any union and were asked to participate on other grounds (e.g., they were authors of a textbook). Also, they were not viewed as representatives by their colleagues in schools. Teachers interpreted participating in the NC process as part of their professional development, said Mikser.

SC developers described participation in the process as a requirement, not an invitation. Interestingly, the solid background and rich experiences of the NC developers did not necessarily lead them to leadership positions in SC development in their own schools.

What was very similar in both the SC and NC development process was that subject committees discussed subject details very specifically but did not speak about general matters like competencies and cross-curricular topics. In schools, the general part of a SC was mostly prepared by the school administration.

Rights and Obligations

Mikser and Krull brought out two suggestions to improve the situation. Firstly, the curriculum development process needs an academic research tradition. “Keen discussion needs research-based argumentation,” Krull said.

Secondly, the recruitment policy of teachers for NC development needs reorganisation. “Those participating in state curriculum committees should represent teachers with all the rights and obligations resulting from that, thus functioning as mediators between interest groups, as well as between curriculum policy levels,” Mikser explained.

This article was funded by the European Regional Development Fund through Estonian Research Council.