INCREASING DEMANDS: The importance of focus, consistency and attention to basics can be lost in an overloaded curriculum and constantly changing educational environment
ONE of the salient and conspicuous aspects of contemporary education and schooling is the constant push for change and reform in curriculum, methods of teaching and the applications of new technologies to learning and teaching.
One thing appears constant, and this appears to be change. Teachers are constantly reminded that the way to keep up with all of these demands is through constantly updating their professional development and applying the results of this to their teaching. Schools are pressured to add this or that new and “important” issue or concern to their curriculum. Much of this is taken for granted as the necessary characteristics of an educational system seeking to improve itself and adapt to change and the needs of “modern” society. There are many interests behind the calls to constantly update and change, and much of the motivation for this stems from good intentions. However, are all the results of this constant change and additions what we expect from teachers and what we expect to be learnt in schools always positive?
Economist and philosopher Amartya Sen has pointed out one issue which deserves attention and which may get lost among all the reforms (Banish Homework in Primary Schools, The Hindu, 2009). He points out the problems of curriculum overload. We are increasing the demands on the curriculum and on teachers and students to such a degree that either we fail to teach the basics and essentials in our schools or we offload a lot of this to outside of school time. The curriculum becomes overloaded and education is the first casualty. Not only do we now have to contend with the problem of an overloaded curriculum, the constant demands to change teaching practices and adaptation to new and apparently improved forms of pedagogy and so forth mean that there is a growing sense of frustration with constant change in many schools.
With excellent resources, high levels of staffing and an environment without the hindrance of social problems and disadvantage, you may be able to handle all of these demands and changes; although I think this problem of overload and reform fatigue affect us all in varying degrees. However, in school environments that are disadvantaged, poorly resourced and poorly staffed, the effects of an overloaded curriculum and the desire to keep up with this or that latest technique in pedagogy or technology may lead to genuine crisis.
Part of properly engaging the problems of social justice and advancing educational opportunity for marginalised students in disadvantaged communities necessitate understanding the importance of focus, clarity, consistency and attention to basics which can be lost in an overloaded and constantly changing educational environment. The seductions of this or that latest educational doctrine, pedagogical change or new demand on the curriculum must not get in the way of clear focus and an ability to follow through and be consistent in our approaches to education.
Modern societies are suffering from the effects of constant acceleration, increasing complexity and never ending claims that this or that new reform, technology or technique is the best thing since the last best thing before it (Social Acceleration: Ethical and Political Consequences of a Desynchronised High-Speed Society by Hartmut Rosa). Most of us barely have time to even grasp last week’s reform before this week’s change demands our attention. However, proper education rests on our capacity to slow things down, focus and pay attention to what is important. This is why schools must not always respond to or follow the latest fad or trend since slavish following of this or that “new” idea and constant addition to the curriculum can lead to confusion and anxiety, and this can diminish the educational experience of the child.
Curriculum overload and constant demands for change in schools can have significant negative consequences for both teachers and students. This is an issue which is relevant across the schooling sector, but may play out with particularly damaging consequences in schools that suffer the effects of disadvantage. We ought to consider this when we think about the next change or addition that we make to schools and the demands on both teachers and students.While many of the reforms and changes that we make to education may be inspired by good intentions and in many cases provide real benefits to teachers and students alike, we ought to also consider the unintended consequences of some of our reforms and changes, especially on those who are disadvantaged. Context is critical. The issue of curriculum reform as always involves balance and good judgement. Amartya Sen is on to something in his critique of curriculum overload, we ought to look at this issue very closely. NST Learning Curve 7 SEPTEMBER 2014 @ 3:26 PM