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Changing the curriculum

MINI CRITIQUE By Isagani Cruz | Updated September 30, 2010 - 12:00am

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Changing a curriculum is a very complicated process. It is not just a matter of adding a


subject here and removing a subject there. It is not even just a process of revising a
particular syllabus or updating it or using a different teaching strategy.

In order to understand how complicated designing a curriculum is, let us take a simple
example.

In what year of the educational cycle should we teach human reproduction? Clearly, we
cannot wait until students are 18 years old, because they could legally get married by
that time. On the other hand, to take a non-controversial method encouraged by the
Catholic Church, there is no point teaching the rhythm method to children who have not
yet reached puberty. How old should children be when we discuss anatomy and
physiology in class? What grade level would they be in when they are at that age?

Here you can see that the issue of whether a child should be in Grade 1 at age 4, 5, or
6 involves looking ahead to the time they will become parents. For the sake of the
example, let us say we decide that we should teach family planning to 17-year-olds. In
the current cycle with six-year-olds in Grade 1, the children would likely be in Second
Year College. In the planned 12-year cycle, they would be in the last year of High
School. Who will worry about responsible parenthood? DepEd or CHED? We
immediately face pedagogical and bureaucratic issues.

When should students learn about pedophilia? When should they learn about the ethical
implications of premarital sex, contraception, and abortion? In fact, we would have to
decide a prior question: should schools teach human reproduction at all or should we
leave it all up to parents or to human instinct? Even more prior than that is the
philosophy of teaching: are teachers surrogate parents? (In the old days, we called that
in loco parentis, or taking the place of parents whose children are in school.)

If we expand the topic a bit, we would have to decide when to take up issues such as
overpopulation, stem cell research, divorce, even citizenship and nationalism (should
pregnant women try to migrate to the US in order to have their children born
Americans?).

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That is only one of several areas of learning that we have to worry about when we
design a curriculum.

Unfortunately for teachers, the world is rapidly changing. Technology and climate
change are only two of the major factors why teachers cannot merely pass on to their
students what they learned when they themselves were in school. Before the 21st
century, the Department of Education (DepEd) would take ten years or so to change the
curriculum. Today, a curriculum, no matter how well put together, becomes outdated in
much earlier than ten years.

When a curriculum becomes outdated, we (not just teachers, but also parents and
students) have to get together to revise it. There are many steps we have to take.

For example, we have to begin by figuring out which elements of the current curriculum
are already outdated.

Let us take another simple example the curriculum for teaching English to Filipinos.
There have been a number of major changes in the English language itself. For one
thing, linguists now recognize several major varieties of English, including Philippine
English. (Several books on Philippine English have been published, including a
dictionary.) There is now no standard English that may be said to be universally
correct. (A simple example is Ateneo beat FEU, which is correct in the UK but wrong in
the USA. In case it is the other way around this afternoon, make that FEU beat
Ateneo.)

Linguists have also realized that usage has changed a lot of old grammatical rules. A
simple example is the previously ungrammatical Everyone had their own idea, which is
considered today as perfectly correct. The older form, Everyone had his own idea, is
now considered unacceptable, due to its implication that women are not part of the
human race.

Because we have to teach according to what we know, we cannot teach English the
way we used to. We have to change minimum learning competencies, lesson plans,
examinations, outcomes, textbooks, even teacher training, because research forces us
to do so. We also cannot change just the teaching of English in college. We have to
change the teaching of English at the elementary and high school levels, because we
cannot teach Grade 6 students that his refers to both male and female and then tell
them when they reach college that we lied.

That is just English. Also changing rapidly today is the way we should be teaching
Filipino, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, and so on. (To be continued)

TEACHING TIP OF THE WEEK. Here is an activity recommended by the University of


California, San Diego:

Student-Generated Questions: Ask students to provide questions for discussion. These


can be written out beforehand, or generated in brief small group sessions during class.
Such questions can also be the basis for review sessions. In science or math classes,
students can create problems for each other to solve, which helps them understand key
concepts behind problem-solving techniques