Curriculum is often defined as a high-level overview of the students’ educational process. Historical conceptions view curriculum as a body of knowledge to be taught. However, because educational aims have changed according to economic and political realities, the curricula have been shaped by these adjustments. Therefore, it is reasonable to say that curriculum is an instrument in achieving the goals of education. The formulation of curriculum primarily depends on what humans consider significant in the context of learning. In other words, curriculum is perceived as the body of knowledge that should be taught in order to achieve educational aims. However, some individuals oppose this conception – some believe that curriculum is a way of helping students accomplish their objectives. Progressivists, on the other hand, perceive curriculum as a process and the totality of student experiences. This conflict of the ways of conceptualizing curriculum has been creating an environment for reform and change.
Educational Goals and Contemporary Pressures on the Curriculum
The objectives that education is set to accomplish determines what knowledge is transmitted to students. The majority of the population views schools and universities as institutions where they can acquire demanded skills in order to succeed in the job market. Attaining education to be able to gain income is an instrumental approach to curricula. However, Brighouse (2006) suggests that individuals are not restrained exclusively by financial motives. Through work, social status is impacted, and people engage in self-development (Brighouse, 2006). Therefore, there are many benefits to this educational aim. These advantages exist because an economy is a group of interrelated processes. For instance, as Brighouse (2006) claims, when a person has a job and flourishes at work, he or she is more likely to have self-respect. This quality may lead this person to contribute to the socio-economic goals of the community. However, there is a risk that students become tools in the hand of the economy.
Cohen (2006) provides a different perspective on the economic goals of education. He claims that there are competing views on what skills should be taught in schools. On the one hand, there is a government’s perspective that shows what skills are needed to reach the economic aims of the nation (Cohen, 2006). On the other hand, teachers and students have their own opinion about what individuals need in terms of education in order to integrate themselves into society successfully (Cohen, 2006). The author claims that these two views should be balanced in order to formulate the most appropriate curriculum (Cohen, 2006). The benefit of this approach is that it mitigates the mentioned risk of people becoming instruments.
The second major goal of education is the autonomy of individuals. Fain et al. (2004) challenge the notion of education as a way of acquiring skills to get a job. The authors question the job security of individuals that attained marketable skills. They claim that the dynamic shape of the global economy cannot guarantee that jobs that are popular today will be available tomorrow (Fain et al., 2004). In other words, while the current education system and curricula may teach individuals specific skills and prepare them for a competition in the market economy, when these talents become less needed, people will be in jeopardy. Therefore, it is much more significant to teach a person how to be autonomous and how to think reasonably (Fain et al., 2004).
This perspective is challenged by those who believe that people flourish in society rather than autonomously. Another disadvantage is that too much autonomy will make it impossible for people to decide on issues that affect humanity as a whole (Fain et al., 2004). However, there is a significant advantage – a curriculum that teaches autonomy makes individuals less dependent on changing economic environments. Also, creative skills and critical thinking that come along with independence allow people to be more adaptable and flexible.
Moral values and ethics are essential because it is expected that individuals conform to cultural standards and norms. Thus, the third aim of education is teaching children ethical values and morality. This goal does not contradict with the economic objective of education because moral values can be taught along with instrumental skills. However, the notion of autonomy is slightly incompatible with the idea of social norms. That is because autonomous people tend to think for themselves and not rely on pre-defined standards and doctrines. Despite this contradiction, character and moral education should be a part of curricula because it is important that people behave in a way that is just, righteous, and moral. The benefit of this goal is the mitigation of societal issues such as violence, corruption, and dishonesty (Lickona, 1996).
Furthermore, character education has a positive influence on work efficacy, and in turn, on the achievement of economic goals. Lickona (1996) claims that the absence of moral education leads to the deterioration of language and a decline in the work ethic. As a result, communication problems and dishonesty at work decrease collaboration and efficacy at the workplace. Conversely, with appropriate character education, communication and collaboration at work can be facilitated. Bajovic et al. (2009) have a similar opinion about the importance of moral values. They propose a strategy for developing a curriculum that incorporates character education (Bajovic et al., 2009). As they claim, common values should be identified in each region, and curricula should be developed accordingly (Bajovic et al., 2009).
Good citizenship and democracy make up the fourth goal of education. The definition of “a well-functioning citizen in a democratic society” given by Brighouse (2006) resembles most of the values proposed by the third educational aim. Brighouse (2006) states that achieving good citizenship will decrease crime rates and contribute to public participation in politics. Similar benefits can be potentially observed if curricula pursue moral and character education. However, there may not be any personal gains from becoming a good citizen (Brighouse, 2006). Therefore, this aim contradicts with the first goal that sees education as a way of attaining economic benefits.
The major advantage of good citizenship is the political participation of individuals. Good citizens are more likely to make decisions that benefit society as a whole. However, without the necessary expertise, it is not possible to make sound decisions. For instance, an individual is not able to make political choices to facilitate the economy if he or she does not have the necessary knowledge in economics. Therefore, this goal cannot be pursued on its own and should co-exist with other aims.
Preserving the environment and creating sustainable means of achieving economic goals are vital for human existence. Therefore, the fifth goal of education is to provide the necessary knowledge to make individuals aware of environmental issues. Sustainability education does not advocate for specific trends but instead develops critical reasoning so that individuals can make weighed decisions. Also, to be able to make an environmental impact, people need to have scientific knowledge. Therefore, this goal is universal and does not contradict any of the other educational aims. Benefiting the environment means contributing to humanity as a whole. Good citizenship is required so that people take active participation in political discussions about the ecology. Also, moral education is necessary to be able to make decisions that are motivated not by personal interests but by the desire to help others. In summary, this educational goal is only beneficial and does not have any disadvantages.
The last of the significant goals of education is human flourishing. This aim is the meeting point of all previous objectives. Economic opportunities available to individuals with necessary skills will allow them to have generous income and gain access to self-development possibilities. Good citizens can actively participate in debates in order to improve current political systems. People that can think critically, ethically, and with reason are able to make quality decisions. Lastly, by mitigating the consequences of environmental pollution, people increase the quality of their lives. However, human flourishing is not limited to only these factors. Cavanagh (2008) and Cohen (2006) state that of utter significance to human flourishing are positive interpersonal relationships and love. By improving relationships, it will be possible to reach other goals. For instance, positive teacher-student relationships may increase the efficacy of teaching (Cavanagh, 2008). Therefore, human flourishing may be the most crucial aim of education.
Curriculum and its Impacts
To meet the mentioned, partially or entirely, a suitable curriculum should be developed. Therefore, the curriculum is the outgrowth of the foundations of education. In essence, it is the combination of bodies of knowledge, teaching practices, and research with the goal of achieving one or more educational objectives. It is shaped by what educational goals society wants to pursue, which, in turn, are influenced by teaching reforms. The curriculum has a significant impact on communities and society at large because it resembles the priorities set by the education system. For instance, consider the situation when the curriculum is primarily aimed at developing technical skills in students and neglects moral education. Then, it is more likely that these students will use their skills for illegal and unfavorable purposes when they become adults.
As a personal example, I can provide a description of my experiences during school. The institution I attended focused on both character education and skills. There was a dress code in place so that everyone feels equal, and individuals cannot discriminate against others based on their outfit. While some argue that school dress-code negatively impacts the creative capabilities of students, my personal experience suggests that it has a positive effect on student discipline. Also, the curriculum included mandatory classes on ethics and morality. The difference between this school and others in the region was substantial – while I heard many stories of student fights in other schools, I observed none in mine. All students were respectful of each other and had positive relationships. Therefore, it can be concluded that what is taught in school has a significant impact on how students behave and how they compete in the job market.
Bajovic, M., Rizzo, K., & Engemann, J. (2009). Character education re-conceptualized for practical implementation. Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, 92. Web.
Brighouse, H. (2006). On education. Psychology Press.
Cavanagh, T. (2008). Schooling for happiness: Rethinking the aims of education. Kairaranga, 9(1), 20-23.
Cohen, J.E. (2006). Goals of universal basic and secondary education. Prospects, 36(3), 1-23.
Fain, S. M., Barantovich, M., & Martin, R. (2004). The aims of education in an age of stasis and change. Web.
Lickona, T. (1996). Eleven principles of effective education. Journal of Moral Education, 25(1), 1-5.