Relevance for today; preparation for tomorrow With curriculum from Cambridge International
Regional Director, South Asia, Cambridge Assessment International Education
We often use the analogy of a potter to describe a teacher. Someone who can mould and shape a child’s thoughts, actions, motivations and dispositions. To do this well, a teacher should have the right skills and appropriate pedagogical tools. And unarguably, a solid framework which is provided by the curriculum. So what exactly is ‘curriculum’? Is it a collection of subjects and syllabuses? Is it the scope and sequence of what must be taught? Is it the ideology of the school? Is it what is taught in class? Or what is experienced by the student inside the classroom and outside of it? Or is it all of these?
The term ‘curriculum’ seems to have a much broader connotation in today’s world. However, the understanding that curriculum is not merely the academic content delivered by a teacher in a classroom is not new. At my school, we were given ample opportunities to develop and demonstrate all-rounded proficiency in areas including but not limited to sport, debate, recitation, poetry writing and class magazine competitions. I was an efficient rote learner, so I scored well in academics, as many Indian students do! While I had a great mix of academic and ‘extra-curricular’ experiences, I cannot say I experienced a broad and balanced curriculum, which is one of the key features of the Cambridge curriculum. I did not have the opportunity to study humanities subjects in Grades 11-12 for example, because my school only offered Science and Commerce ‘streams’ and I was too attached to my school to leave it for subjects of my preference.
What is a broad and balanced curriculum?
A school curriculum that is ‘balanced’ includes mathematics, languages, sciences, technology, humanities, creative arts and physical education. A ‘broad’ curriculum of this type provides the opportunity for learners to experience, acquire and develop essential and valued learning from a variety of contexts. In the senior years of schooling some narrowing of the curriculum may be expected as learners specialise in specific subjects required for progression to higher education. However they should still be expected to take part in activities and programmes that complement their academic programme, such as the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award programme or the Cambridge International Project Qualification (CIPQ).
There are choices in real life; why not in curriculum?
Our schools tell us what they most appreciate about the Cambridge curriculum is the choice and flexibility it provides. We offer over 70 subjects at Cambridge IGCSE and over 55 subjects at Cambridge International AS & A Level, but we do not prescribe any combination or ‘streams’. This allows Cambridge schools to build a curriculum which offers real choice – both of subjects and subject combinations. So a student aspiring to get into medicine can choose to study a subject like psychology along with physics, maths, and biology at Cambridge International AS & A Level. Or someone looking at a career in finance and stock markets may combine a cross-curricular subject like Cambridge Global Perspectives with maths, accounting and economics. Cambridge curriculum is international in philosophy and approach, but can be tailored to local contexts. Schools can combine our curriculum with national and local curricula and can tailor it to their culture and ethos, and their students’ needs. We support schools who want to use Cambridge qualifications within bilingual education programmes in order to develop bilingualism to age-appropriate levels of competence.
How do we know our curriculum is relevant to today’s world and prepares learners for tomorrow?
Our curriculum supports the development of learners and teachers who are confident, responsible, reflective, innovative and engaged. Firstly, it reflects the latest thinking in each subject area, drawn from expert international research and consultation with schools, universities and employers. As a result, every subject syllabus adopts a ‘spiral’ approach – students build on previous learning to advance their studies. Secondly, we review our syllabuses every 6-7 years which ensures that they are fit for purpose and reflect the requirements of the contemporary world, characterised by uncertainty, globalisation, rapid change and technological innovation. Thirdly, looking at emerging careers we offer subjects like Digital Media & Design, Media Studies, Enterprise, etc. which allow students to explore avenues other than the traditional ones.
Factual knowledge is in abundance and freely available. The ability to process and apply knowledge effectively and wisely is key today. Learners need to become problem solvers, able to interact with subject content in critical and innovative ways. In addition to acquiring these broad-based skills, successful learners take responsibility for their own learning. Cambridge Global Perspectives is a unique, transformational subject available across Cambridge Pathway, from primary to Grade 12 that helps students at every stage of school education develop outstanding transferable skills, including critical thinking, research and collaboration.
Some final thoughts
Learning does not begin or end in classrooms, but permeates the school environment and broader community. What learners actually experience is a consequence of a complex web of interdependent parts including the school’s vision and values, teaching quality, student motivation and prior knowledge, leadership, environment and culture, assessment practices and expectations. Our ‘Implementing the curriculum with Cambridge’ guide explains why it is important to recognise that planning the school curriculum, in terms of the subjects to be studied each year towards specific qualifications, is only part of the process. While schools may use similar or even identical written curricula, the experienced curriculum is bound to be unique to each school. For this reason, schools must take ownership of their curriculum and regularly evaluate the outcomes against their intentions to make sure the educational experience is optimised and in line with the school’s vision and mission.
A senior professor from IIT-Bombay made a profound statement in a meeting I attended recently – “Your output does not define who you are.” By giving learners choices, rich and relevant content and meaningful learning opportunities, schools and education boards can strive to ensure the input is right. Learners look at the world through their own unique lenses. We will do a great service to them if we allow them to explore and discover where their real interests lie and give them an education that helps them become lifelong learners, rather than rob them of their childhood by imposing unrealistic expectations. Curriculum is a means to a desired goal and should not be treated as the destination itself.
About Cambridge Assessment International Education
Cambridge Assessment International Education prepares school students for life, helping them develop an informed curiosity and a lasting passion for learning. Cambridge Pathway gives students a clear path for educational success from age 5 to 19. Schools can shape the curriculum around how they want students to learn – with a wide range of subjects and flexible ways to offer them. It helps students discover new abilities and a wider world, and gives them the skills they need for life, so they can achieve at school, university and work.
Ruchira Ghosh took over as the Regional Director, South Asia for Cambridge International Examinations in 2014. A Sociology graduate of Delhi University, Ruchira did her Masters in Social Work from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai,she started her career in the education sector with an organisation that specialises in creativity and lateral thinking skills programmes for schools.
A passionate education professional and a keen learner herself, Ruchira has worked with schoolheads and teachers, both in the private and state sectors through different interesting portfolios over the last 17 years. Prior to joining Cambridge, Ruchira worked with the British Council for 11 years.
In her current role as the regional head of the Cambridge board, Ruchira is responsible for strengthening credibility and trust, and influencing growth and better understanding of Cambridge programmes and qualifications in South Asia in countries including India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal, Afghanistan, Maldives and Bhutan. She firmly believes that the three pillars of school education – Curriculum, Teaching and Assessment – require equal attention and careful nurturing within the local context to enable young people to do well in school and beyond school, and to develop a lasting passion for learning.