The curriculum problem

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The curriculum problem is a subset of the assessment problem, and goes something like this:

Formal education systems generally have a defined curriculum, which specifies what should be taught/learnt. There is also the hidden curriculum, though that is not the focus here.

There are two rationales for having a curriculum:

  • it makes it easier to assess the learners (cos they are all learning the same thing and therefore can be assessed in the same way)
  • it specifies the things that someone has decided are important and need to be learnt (which some folk might describe as an entitlement).

The curriculum is usually pre-defined - the teacher knows in advance what has to be taught. Everyone - unless they are determined to 'have special educational needs' - is taught the same stuff (though hopefully it is differentiated to take into account their current level of competence). This is the core of the curriculum problem - there is little or no scope within the curriculum for individualisation or variation to meet the differring needs of different contexts. The curriculum is a blunt instrument - which works against the need for personalisation.

One why that folk have tried to overcome the curriculum problem is to post-define the curriculum. Rather than determining what should be learnt in advance they look at the work that a learner has produced and then write an assessment specification to fit that. This is the approach used by Not-school (Ultralab). However, this does not appear to meet the four essential criteria for assessment (see the assessment problem) - it is not scaleable because it requires a great deal of 'teacher' time to assess it.

Another approach is the one that is labelled APEL (Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning). This too fails to meet the four essential criteria for assessment because it is so labour intensive to mark (as well as often involving a huge amount of work for the learner in documenting evidence to demonstrate their competence).

Wikied attempts to overcome the curriculum problem building upon the notion of peer review.