What is a curriculum?

“In a theoretical sense, curriculum refers to what is offered by the school or college. However, practically it has a wider scope, which covers the knowledge, attitude, behaviour, manner, performance, and skills that are imparted or inculcated in a student. It contains the teaching methods, lessons, assignments, physical and mental exercises, activities, projects, study material, tutorials, presentations, assessments, test series, learning objectives, and so on.” (2)

Surbhi, S. 2015. Difference between syllabus and curriculum: Comparison chart. Key Differences.

A curriculum is broader than a course and a syllabus. It is an aggregation of courses and provides a bigger picture. A course is a set of lectures that can consist of any type of content. Different courses contribute to a curriculum. A syllabus is a descriptive outline and summary of topics to be covered in an educational or training course. (3)

Anon. 2017. Difference between syllabus and curriculum. Difference Between: Descriptive Analysis and Comparisons.
It helps students to know about a subject in detail, why it is a part of their course of study, and what will be expected from them.

It contains general rules, policies, instructions, topics covered, assignments, projects, test dates, and so on. A subject syllabus is a unit of the curriculum.

Box 1 - Philosophical considerations

  • Intellectual emphasis: Not training and disciplining the mind, but rather engaging learners in problem-solving activities, unleashing creativity and thinking outside the box.
  • Educational process: Should be viewed not as rigid instruction, but as a creative self-learning process where learners reconstruct knowledge. Education should be learner-centred.
  • Curriculum content: Should address learners holistically in relation to knowledge, attitude, and skills.
  • Learners: Are not homogeneous empty vessels, but a heterogeneous group able to think and relate issues to their own real-life experience.
  • Teachers: Are not subject authorities, but facilitate learning and create space for students to learn on their own. Teacher–student dialogue is important.

Curriculum development can therefore be understood as a systematic process of framing the context within which learning takes place; what needs to be taught and learned (content); how it should be delivered (teaching–learning methods and tools); how it is assessed (examinations); and what resources may be used (materials to deliver and support teaching and learning). It is an interactive and cyclical process that involves a considerable amount of negotiation among stakeholders with different interests to reach a consensus on what defines a complete curriculum.

How, who, what, why?

The principles important in determining the choice of emphasis in curriculum development are:

  • know how – process or practical knowledge
  • know who – communication
  • know what – facts
  • know why – science.

Understanding these principles will help to influence choices about what content needs to be taught, how it is delivered, and how it is assessed.

Modes of delivery influencing curriculum development The delivery mode is important to curriculum development because it will influence the writing style, packaging format, and nature of activities.

  • Face-to-face courses usually involve the instructor and learner being in the same room.
  • Self-directed study involves the learner facilitating their own learning, for example through web-based online courses or long-distance learning.
  • Blended courses (also known as hybrid or mixed-mode courses) combine traditional face-to-face instruction with long-distance or web-based learning. Blended learning is a student-centred approach to creating a learning experience whereby the learner interacts with other students, with the instructor, and with the course content through thoughtful integration of online and face-to-face environments.