USA: International symposium puts teachers at core of curriculum development

published 6 April 2017 updated 11 April 2017

Breadth of learning, improved curricula and skills adapted to the 21st Century were at the heart of a recent international symposium in Washington, USA.

On 5 April, international experts in education, teachers and policy makers gathered to discuss how education quality can be increased through improved curricula, contemporary and future focused skills, and breadth of learning.

The seminar, organised by the Center for Universal Education (CUE) at Brookings Institute, Washington,    USA, was held on the occasion of the publication of a report which revealed that students across the globe are leaving school without the appropriate skills. In response to this, the CUE had coordinated a series of case studies to explore the contents of national education curricula. The project, whose aim was to check the appropriateness of curricula and the scope for improvement, was led directly by local teacher unions and co-hosted by Education International (EI). At the seminar, participants extracted best practice examples from the country studies as well as recommendations for improvement.

Country reports

A new report, Skills for a Changing World. National Perspectives and the Global Movement, was also presented during the event. It captures the global, regional, and national level movement toward recognising breadth of skills within education systems. The report includes summary case studies from Kenya, Mexico, the Philippines and South Africa.

Importance of teachers

EI’s representatives stressed the need to connect the school level to the policy level through better dialogue and effective data collection. Martin Henry, EI Research Coordinator, highlighted the importance of framing quality education and the crucial involvement of teachers in the dialogue on curriculum development. Henry, who insisted that teacher professionalism could only be shaped in collaboration with practitioners on the ground, was supported in his views by Daniel Hernández, fromthe Mexican Ministry of Education. Norwegian academic Sten Ludwigsen also affirmed the importance of teachers in educational change.  Christopher Yalukanda from ZNUT presented on the Primary School tool he led the development of and Hesbon Otieno presented on the Secondary School tool developed in Kenya.  Yalukanda also debated on a panel where he stressed the importance of not ambushing teachers with approaches that blame them for the gaps that occur as a result of under resourcing, but to work with teachers to improve students’ educational experience.

Barriers to achievement

However, the teacher surveys conducted by EI showed that teachers’ ability to create positive education change is being curtailed by factors including a lack of properly supported continuous professional development, exceedingly high class sizes (with over 50 students), poorly trained teachers, and a lack of essential resources in schools such as workshops and libraries. The studies also showed a lack of access to digital resources despite the government’s focus in both Kenya and Zambia on digital literacy.

EI’s surveys of teachers in Kenya and Zambia exposed the nature of provision on the ground, a fact often not reflected in policy guidelines, according to Henry. They highlighted that lasting educational improvement in providing a breadth of skills and learning for students in the developing world can only be achieved by overcoming these barriers and providing training, teacher networks and support so that teachers can help to develop the wellbeing and education of students.