Curriculum Theory


Curriculum theory is a way of describing the philosophy of certain approaches to the development and enactment of curriculum. Within the broad field of curriculum studies, it is both a historical analysis of curriculum and a way of viewing current educational curriculum and policy decisions. There are many different views of curriculum theory including those of Kliebard, Schiro, among others.

However, a very useful starting point for me is the definition of word “curriculum.” According to John Kerr’s definition which was adopted by Vic Kelly in his typical work on the topic, curriculum is defined as, 'All the learning which is planned and guided by the school, whether it is carried on in groups or individually, inside or outside the school. (quoted in Kelly 1983: 10; see also, Kelly 1999). This gives me a starting point to move on - and for the moment I have to highlight two major features from this definition:

  • That learning is planned and guided.
  • That the definition refers to schooling.

The following are the four ways of approaching curriculum theory and practice:

1. Curriculum as a body of knowledge to be transmitted.

Curriculum cannot be equated with a syllabus which in essence means a concise statement or table of the heads of a discourse, the contents of a treatise, and the subjects of a series of lectures. It is connected with courses leading to examination. This view of the curriculum limits planning to a consideration of the content or the body of knowledge that may be transmitted.

2. Curriculum as an attempt to achieve certain ends in students - product.

However varied human life may appear to be, it consists in the performance of specific activities. Therefore, education should prepare a student for life, i.e., preparing definitely and adequately for such activities. Though they may be numerous and diverse they can be discovered for any social class. This requires one to go out into the world of affairs and discover the particulars of which his/her affairs consist. And as such the abilities, attitudes, habits, appreciations and forms of knowledge that men need will be shown. These have to be the objectives of the curriculum, thus making it (curriculum) a series of experiences which children and youth must have by way of obtaining those objectives.

3. Curriculum as process.

Looking at the as a process curriculum is not a physical thing, but rather the interaction of teachers, students and knowledge. In other words, curriculum is what actually happens in the classroom and what people do to prepare and evaluate.

4. Curriculum as praxis.

Whereas the process model is driven by general principles and places an emphasis on judgment and meaning making, it does not make explicit statements about the interests it serves. The praxis model of curriculum theory and practice on the other hand brings these to the centre of the process and makes an explicit commitment to emancipation. Thus action is not simply informed, it is also committed. That is, the curriculum is not simply a set of plans to be implemented, but rather is constituted through an active process in which planning, acting and evaluating are all reciprocally related and integrated into the process

Therefore, curriculum should in due course produce students who would be able to deal efficiently with the contemporary world. It should not be presented as finished concept, but should include the child’s preconceptions and should incorporate how the child views his/her own world. This perspective uses four instincts, to describe how to characterize children’s behavior. They consist of social, constructive, expressive, and artistic. Curriculum should then build an orderly sense of the world where the child lives. As a curriculum designer I have to use livelihoods to connect diminutive account of fundamental activities of life classroom activities. This could be accomplished by combining subject areas and resources. It means I have to make connections between subject matter and the child’s life.

Teaching methods should focus on hands-on problem solving, experimenting, and projects, often having students work in groups. Curriculum should bring the disciplines together to focus on resolving problems in an interdisciplinary way. Rather than passing down organized bodies of knowledge to new learners, they (learners) should apply their knowledge to real situations through experimental inquiry. This prepares students for citizenship, daily living, and future careers.

I have to acknowledge that humans are social beings who learn best in real-life activities with other people. Therefore education must be based on this principle. As a curriculum designer I will have to rely on the best available scientific theories of learning. I may borrow from John Dewey's model of learning where children learn as if they were scientists. That is,

  • Being aware of the problem.
  • Defining the problem.
  • Proposing hypotheses to solve it.
  • Evaluating the consequences of the hypotheses from one's past experience.
  • Testing the most likely solution.

Given this view of human nature, it is my genuine concern that students should not only be provided with reading and drill, but also real-world experiences and activities that center on their real life. This is in comparison to a distinctive progressivism slogan which states, "Learn by Doing!"

According to NCLB Act of 2001, assessments of students is supposed to be criterion-referenced tests, where a student is tested on his knowledge of the required content or if he/she can do the required skill as outlined in the state's standards. Unlike the norm-referenced tests, where student’s performance is based on how he/she is ranks compared to other students, the curriculum has to provide an alternative to the test-oriented instruction as legislated by the No Child Left Behind educational funding act. This will enable the student, at the end of his course of study, to apply the knowledge he acquired to real-life situation in his/her daily life.

As contrasted to the traditional curriculum of the 19th century, that is rooted in classical preparation for the university and strongly differentiated by socioeconomic level, I strongly propose a type of curriculum which finds its roots in the present experiences, is more democratic in outlook, and looks forward. The quality of this curriculum should:

  • Emphasize on learning by doing, i.e., hands-on projects, experiential learning
  • Integrate curriculum that is focused on thematic elements
  • Strongly emphasize on problem solving and critical thinking
  • Encourage group work and growth of social skills
  • Understanding and action should be the goals of learning as opposed to rote knowledge
  • Emphasize collaborative and cooperative learning projects
  • Emphasize education for social responsibility and democracy
  • Integrate community service and service learning projects into the daily curriculum
  • Select subject content by looking forward to ask what skills will be needed in future society
  • De-emphasis on textbooks in favor of varied learning resources
  • Emphasize on life-long learning and social skills
  • Assessment by evaluation of child’s projects and productions

In conclusion an acceptable curriculum should be that which makes a learner to be creative, self-reliant and make him excel in all aspects of life that suite his desires. It would be unfair to have a curriculum which ignores the social aspect of a child because he/she lives in a society that is ever social. The curriculum should also enable the student to apply that which he/she learns in the classroom in real life experience.


  • Kliebard, H. M. (1987) The Struggle for the American Curriculum 1893 - 1958, New York: Routledge.
  • Stenhouse, L. (1975) An Introduction to Curriculum Research and Development, London: Heinemann.
  • Blenkin, G. M. et al (1992) Change and the Curriculum, London: Paul Chapman.
  • Taba, H. (1962) Curriculum Development: Theory and practice, New York: Harcourt Brace and World.
  •, (2008) Module One: History and Philosophy of Education

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