Defining curriculum, curriculum types, and curriculum management: An academic reflection with a personal conviction

Saint Meassnguon
Chulalongkorn University
Bangkok, Thailand
July 21, 2020

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What should be taught at school has been a critical inquiry for many relevant stakeholders in education. Another important query is what a country intends to produce or what the objective of education is. According to Ornstein and Hunkins (2013), the objective of education is to enable the citizens of a country to mobilize upwardly and to reconstruct the society. Whenever there is reconstruction, there is a development of society, which in turn needs the change in education or curriculum (Wiles & Bondi, 2015). In my opinion, the objective of education is for the survival and growth of the citizens of a country, emphasizing their ability to be competitive and mutually beneficial in the locality and beyond.

The goals of education are controversially divided into four characteristics: vocational, social, intellectual, and personal (Kovin, 2018). Kovin contended that the purposes of schooling/curriculum, the sub-sect of education, include three interrelated elements: political development, social development, and economic development. Notably, social changes and the growing body of knowledge of individuals have resulted in changing curriculum, especially new visions of school purposes (Wiles & Bondi, 2015). Once these new visions develop, curriculum would be arranged, organized, and translated (Wiles & Bondi, 2015; Zais, 1976). Many educators may have wondered what a curriculum is and how to effectively and successfully manage it to accomplish educational goals.

This article aims to define curriculum and curriculum management, illustrate three types of curriculum based on the author’s conviction, and offer a definition of curriculum management.

What is curriculum?

There is no perfect single definition of “curriculum.” According to Wiles & Bondi (2015), curriculum is like a “racecourse” because learners begin from the starting point till the end-point of a program. Given that learners can learn from everywhere not only from print documents or from school, the definition of curriculum should not just be a product or an experience. In the past, it was everything learnt in the program, including course guides, syllabi, or textbooks. Now curriculum can be seen as a plan for learning, visionary aspects, the intended purpose of education in society, and the process of structuring the curriculum itself (Wiles & Bondi, 2015).

A broader meaning of curriculum refers to:

  1. Plan of action for learners (such as content, structure of chapters of the book, etc.)
  2. Field of study (process and procedure, such as “curriculum development and curriculum change”) (Zais, 1976).

Taba (1962, as cited in Ornstein & Hunkins, 2013) tried to compromise the definitional concept of curriculum as aspects of the learning process, curriculum development activities, and specific methods of teaching. Curriculum, according to Caswell & Campbell (2006), refers to a planned program of studies and “hidden curriculum” as well as all educational experiences learners encounter under the auspices of the school, which has been well taken by many curriculum specialists.

The four intertwined components of curriculum are objectives, contents, organization, and evaluation (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2013, 2018; Wiles & Bondi, 2015). Curriculum has currently become the field of study which concerns various curriculum development process such as analysis, design, implementation, and evaluation, all of which are also under the purview of curriculum management.

Types of curriculum

Different types of curriculum have been designed and developed, namely a content-based curriculum, discipline-based curriculum, student-based curriculum, standard-based curriculum, competency-based curriculum, outcome-based curriculum, and the like with their different purposes in education (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2013, 2018; Wiles & Bondi, 2015). However, I would categorize them into three types: the intended, implemented, and attained curriculum, each of which will be explained below.

Intended curriculum
is initially associated with the educational policy or educational purposes (from macro/national to micro/school levels) and with the first and second components of curriculum objective identification and content selection/organization as well as curriculum analysis and design. The curriculum leaders must make the intended curriculum or innovation clear and uncomplicated because not many people are willing to do new things if they are not precise. Truly, it is common that no one is interested in encountering complicated process in their professions. To make people welcome the innovation, they need to understand its worth, usability, and quality.

Regarding the implemented curriculum, it requires the actual implementers, mostly responsible instructors, to fully understand it before delivering the contents or organizing learning experiences. In education, various stakeholders such as faculty members, administrators, students, consultants, supervisors, principals, state employees, university instructors, parents, lay citizens, and political officials can involve in curriculum implementation. Each bears diverse responsibilities. For example, a school principal may take a leading role in revising the old vision, missions, or strategic plans to align them with the new educational goals of education at the national level. Faculty members can form a committee to provide support, train responsible curriculum implementers, and communicate with them. To successfully implement a curriculum, it is more than just submitting new courses and materials. It needs committees and their active involvement thorough planning and engagement of teachers (who also need supports) and other key players. The trust from the community is also needed.

Implementers or school leaders can gather data and reflect on the success or effectiveness of the innovation through monitoring and evaluation. This process is called attained curriculum. In reality, evaluation is not a one-off approach, for curriculum development is recursive and demands a continuous, cyclical formative and summative assessment.

Curriculum management and educational management

Management is literally defined as “the process of dealing with or controlling things or people” (Oxford Living Dictionary, 2018). In the educational context, though management, leadership and/or administration are used interchangeably, they have been used in different parts of the globe. For example, Britain, Europe, and Africa tend to use “management”, yet Australia, Canada and the United States seem to prefer “administration” (Bush, 2006, 2011). To manage an educational institution, school leaders face numerous challenges, including the balance of advanced/cognitive tasks designed to foster the performance of faculty staff, students, and schools; habitual operations; and lower order responsibilities or tasks.

According to Sapre (2002, p. 102), “Management is a series of actions and tasks relevant to highly well-organized and effectual application of resources within the organization in order to attain organizational objectives.” Cutbert (1984, as cited in Ghasemi, 2006, p. 14) categorized educational management theories into five groups: “analytic-rational, pragmatic-rational, political, phenomenological, and interactionist models”, while Bush (2011, p. 2) raised four theoretical elements of educational management categorized under six clusters: “formal, collegial, political, subjective, ambiguity and cultural models”.

In light of these categorizations, knowing and understanding the function of educational management provides educators with the concepts and strategies on how to administer the curriculum, control the process, and/or deal with people involving in implementing the curriculum in an educational organization.

Curriculum development and its process are part of curriculum management which has four essential components: analysis, design, implementation, and evaluation. According to Sawekngam (2017), threats or matters affecting the curriculum development are problems from the stakeholders (teachers, students, managers/ responsible supervisors in an organization, experts in the field, parents, and the community); problems of the curriculum development process (policy, command, political intention, preparedness of resources, expenditure, supports, follow-up processes, curriculum evaluation, economy, cultures, technology, changes in society); and other influential factors (stages of determining goals and subject matters as well as experiences; stages of curriculum implementation, including understanding the curriculum and prospective materials and contacting relevant personnel; stages of curriculum evaluation; and stages of curriculum improvement and change).

Thus, curriculum management takes all sorts of crucial stages in the curriculum field, including the curriculum development process,. In this respect, curriculum stakeholders need to study the entire educational institution and consider the needs of a society; educational policies; schools’ vision, missions, and goals; the curriculum framework and its model; the curriculum design, process, and evaluation; and the results of students’ learning.

Concluding remarks

Curriculum management, having the curriculum development as one of its subsets, acts as a lens through which to examine the whole dynamic curriculum process. To perform curriculum management successfully, effectively, and efficiently, responsible individuals are required to be knowledgeable, capable of discerning the concept of curriculum and its vital components, having both leadership and management skills, and knowing when and how to apply such skills in their school setting so that the students can achieve the pre-determined curriculum objectives or at least there is evidence of growth in both students and society.

In brief, although there seem to be no clear definition of curriculum management, the concept can be defined as a systematic educational management process aimed at ensuring the achievement of the identified curriculum objectives with the goal of making a positive and transformative impact on the society and attaining educational goals of a nation.

The Author

SAINT Meassnguonis a PhD candidate in Curriculum and Instructionat Chulalongkorn University, Thailand.  He completed his master’s degree in Educational Leadership and Management from Charles Darwin University, Australia and another master’s degree in Development Studies from the Royal University of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. He has been working as an instructor and involving in curriculum development at Western University in Cambodia since late 2009. He has been a curriculum expert consultant for H&K International School since 2019 and was a Program Director at Cam-ASEAN International Institute in 2016. He has compiled several books, including Writing at Tertiary Level, Mastery Skills, Academic Writing (Volume A and B).

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