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Training Tools for Curriculum Development. A Resource Pack
Core Modules


Activity 2: Curriculum localization. Challenges and opportunities

  1. A balance of national and local needs and interests

  2. Curriculum localization. Challenges and opportunities


Relevance of curriculum content is a crucial dimension of quality education. The promotion of localized curricula is a way of encouraging such relevance in very different local, cultural and socio-economic contexts. It is an important component of the decentralization of education, governance and management.

The localization of the curriculum can allow learning to become more meaningful and relevant. It supports policy formulation and standard setting for reform of the curriculum and the impact of this on teacher skills and knowledge. Localization will involve the use of local materials both as the subject and object of instruction. Localization will also involve making the local culture an integral part of the curriculum.

However, there are a number of constraints in the devolution of responsibility for curricula to local levels, including lack of local technical expertise and material resources, fear of the unknown and resistance to change among teachers and local educators. These constraints are often managed through:

  • Developing a curriculum framework, including a clear set of curriculum standards, at the central level;
  • Ensuring compliance with these standards in local and school developed curriculum, either through paper-based accreditation or endorsement processes or through supervision and monitoring processes (or both);
  • Providing training of local and school based curriculum developers; and
  • Ensuring clear and open communication exists between central and localized authorities.

Table 4.1. Examples of global trends in localization of curriculum.

The primary change in the 1994 curriculum reform is the inclusion of the local curriculum subject (LCS) as an independent subject that takes more than 20 % of the curriculum. However, LCS implementation is problematic. LCS tends to alienate learners’ experiences, because local is not singular, rural is plural, and district has different beliefs, perceptions, values, norms, and skills. Thus it is difficult to decide the LCS as the most “local” for all. The new curriculum applies “unity in policy and diversity in practice”. The minimum standard of competency is centralized (unity in policy) and the curriculum content, methods and assessment procedure are decentralized (diversity in practice). This new curriculum attempts to deal with the overcrowded curriculum through integration, reduction of instructional time and decentralization of content, methods, and assessment procedures. It can be said that in the new curriculum – except the competency and exit performance standard – everything is localized at school or district levels.
In the 1990s, educational policy in Finland shifted to decentralization and the granting of more local control to municipalities and schools, with the intent of encouraging more active, locally relevant learning. Within national guidelines, each school can be given substantial latitude for local curriculum design, even if it has to be confirmed at the municipality level. One important aspect of the curriculum reform has been to enable the shift from a didactic teacher-centred philosophy of the previous central curriculum to a more learner-centred approach to teaching. It could be said that the development and implementation of the curriculum influenced teacher views of knowledge, learning, and education in a more progressive direction, but this change is not always reflected in the same way in actual teaching practices at each school, revealing the influence of curriculum leadership, teacher commitment to the curriculum and the evaluation of the curriculum in the development of the school-based curriculum.
The greatest challenge to the process of localizing Vocational Education and Training curricula in Namibia is a preference by practitioners and educators for a more scientific, academic, general and standardized vocational education and training. The traditional paradigm of education and training is characterized by an overemphasis of high general academic secondary school requirements for access to training and qualifications and instructor based delivery and assessment methods and techniques, as against a focus on work-related competences that are essentially contextual and relevant to the local socio-economic and geographical and physical setting. The nature of local industry is based on the utilization and processing of locally available resources, and the Namibia Qualification Framework pursues the development of a diverse range of standards and qualifications as long as they meet all the guidelines and requirements of the NQF and the different NQF level descriptors. However, the difficulty of determining local skills needs and distinguishing between local and national needs and the complexities involved in the implementation of a more flexible NQF results in curriculum centralization and a “one for all” approach.
The Ministry of Education encourages school autonomy, in order to improve the quality of education provided by the school. The basic assumption is that the school staff is capable of developing and formalizing an educational approach, and can then formulate a school-based curriculum by adapting teaching and learning methods to local conditions. Greater school autonomy has had a positive impact on teachers’ motivation and sense of commitment and on schools’ achievement orientation, but only 4% of the variance in the effectiveness between autonomous and less autonomous schools could be explained by school-based management.
The pupils themselves should be allowed a great deal of initiative and involvement in planning their studies, while maintaining dialogue with their peers, teachers, parents and experts. The school schedule is largely based on allocating units of flexible time, where different pupils will be occupied with different subjects or fields. The school is free to structure these units in accordance with the various characteristics of pupils. The only constraint on the school’s autonomy in organizing class schedule is that for each pupil, the time during six school years is allocated on the basis of disciplines, where each one has a relative proportion. This proportion can be expressed by teaching each discipline separately and/or by interdisciplinary teaching, which combines the methods of different approaches.
A wave of school-based curriculum development started in English-speaking countries during the 1970s encountered problems because of insufficient teacher preparation, unchanging school structures, and conservative community expectations. In parallel with school based curriculum, and with a similar rationale, school based assessment was introduced into the education systems in parallel with, or integrated into, public examination systems as the numbers of students accessing and remaining in secondary education grew. Since the 1990s most Australian States have resorted to provide state curriculums with “essential learning” formulations to help reduce variability in the students achievement. It is assumed that because of equity and quality considerations, school based curriculum cannot deliver the whole curriculum.
The changes in the secondary curriculum around 1998 allowed each province to produce their curriculum designs. A provision was made in the timetables to further allow each school to allocate some 10% of the available teaching hours to an “Institutional Option” subject, to be defined at school level. The experience has not increased a lot the relevance of the content taught to students, in part because of the small proportion of time allocated for the institutional option, and also because schools have tried to make use of the already existing teachers, as there is no freedom to hire teachers at the school level.

Challenges and opportunities
As we have seen, while important, the process of localizing curricula is challenging on a number of levels. This section seeks to explore some of those challenges and to consider approaches which may help to address them.

When embarking on a process of localization, educators at all levels in an education system are required to adopt additional responsibilities, new roles and to perform familiar tasks in different ways. The role and definition of “expert” is changed as the system and the individuals within it become learners to varying extents. It is important to acknowledge in advance that such a process will be stressful, frustrating, and at times difficult, but one hopes, ultimately rewarding and positive.

If the education system is seen as a learning organization and the individuals within it as learners, the role of the policy maker and implementer becomes one of facilitating change and building capacity throughout the system. Effective localization processes demand both a clear articulation of policy and a sympathetic understanding of the new demands on individuals and organizations. Areas where capacity is not adequate to deal with new demands need to be identified in advance and given the support necessary to fulfil the expectations of policy makers and of the public.

Four main areas where practical difficulties may arise can be identified:

  • Lack of competent staff
  • Teachers attitudes and potential resistance
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Lack of resources

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