The Challenges of Curriculum Change: Lessons from Alberta, Canada


The article entitled “The Challenges of Curriculum Change” by Kent den Heyer (2013) discusses an educational initiative in Canada’s Alberta Province.  The purpose of the Initiative was to move from a knowledge-based curriculum to a skills- or competence-based curriculum. In this analysis, I will first discuss the author’s argument regarding curriculum change. In addition, I will discuss what is already known about change and how that can be used to facilitate the kind of change that officials in the Alberta Province sought to achieve. Finally, I will discuss the lessons I learned from reading this article.

Den Heyer starts the discussion by quoting a statement made by a 3rd year education student in his undergraduate course. He quotes, “I just want to know what I need to know; I didn’t want to have to think about it” (den Heyer, 2013).  This comment, den Heyer argues, suggests that the student did not necessarily value “thinking” as an end point in her education.  Instead, what she valued the most was the ability to complete tasks or skills.  Den Heyer goes on to discuss how this quote relates to the ability to affect change.  In order for change to occur, den Heyer suggests that we must first change the minds of the people responsible for implementing programs. In the example from Alberta, officials realized that there was a gap between the current curricula used in schools and the mission statement of the school system that promoted engagement, ethical citizenship, and entrepreneurship.  An educational initiative was put forth to change the curricula to match this mission statement.  However, changing how students were instructed would require more than just changing the curricula. It would also require convincing the program implementers (e.g. school administrators, teachers, etc.) on why the curriculum changes were needed.

            In the article, den Heyer reviews what is already known about initiatives for programmatic school change. Research findings consistently indicate that formal curricula changes have little discernible effect on changing classroom practices. We all know that classrooms are where the rubber meets the road. If little changes happens there, the curricula change we are envisioning will have very little impact on what students learn in the classroom. Den Heyer reminds us that curriculum theory is an important aspect of curriculum change when Unfortunately, however, most curriculum changes are politically based and have little to no educational theory behind them. These symbolic curriculum changes are used to signal that something is being done but in reality these moves have little transformative potential in improving student outcomes.

According to den Heyer (2013) official curriculum change and redesigning suffers from many issues.  Lack of open discussion with all stakeholders can lead to changes that are impossible to implement and/or which lack buy-in from key stakeholders needed to implement the curriculum changes (e.g. teachers, school administrators, etc.).  For example, fundamental questions to curriculum changes such as classroom sizes, teaching loads, content, skills, and assessment tools may not be thoroughly discussed as part of the curriculum change process. In addition, strong curricula are based on theories of knowledge and an understanding of the relationship between knowledge and meaning construction. If curricula are not based on theory, teachers will present information and competencies as if they are inter-changeable. The danger to this will be an inability to assess students’ developed competencies.

In conclusion, most often there is a mismatch between the mission statement of school agencies and the type of knowledge they purport to advance. Therefore, a careful look is needed to make sure that the curriculum employed by an educational agency aligns with the agency’s mission statement. In addition, to advance real curriculum change, key stakeholders need to be involved in the process. Successful curriculum change happens when it is initiated from the down-up rather than from the top-down. Needs for improvement must clearly be identified and incorporated into the new curriculum and the curriculum must be based on clear theory.  From this article, I gained insight into the factors required to successfully change curriculum.  These insights will help me as I pursue a career in curriculum development.

 

Reference

Den Keyer, K (2013). The challenges of curriculum change, ATA Magazine, 93(4): 16-19

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