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Should curriculum be universalized or contextualized? A seminar paper in Curriculum and Instruction

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Should curriculum be universalized or contextualized?
A seminar paper in Curriculum and Instruction
Giri Raj Sharma
Kathmandu University, Nepal
Overview of the Issue
There is a very common debate in the field of curriculum especially after the post-modern era
regarding to the context and need of curriculum; whether the curriculum be made universal or
contextual. As my experiences are concerned and I discussed informally with the curriculum
stakeholders some are in favor of universal curriculum and some others advocate it should be
made contextual. Definitely, both of the curriculum type i. e. universalized and contextualized
has merits and demerits as well but how a curriculum designer sets the priority are crucial
aspects on this issue. There would be some leading questions to analyze the strengths and
weaknesses of this issue. What are national priority and demand? What is the need of society?
What are advantages and disadvantages for applying universalized and contextual curriculum?
How people respond to this situation of curricular debate and issue in our social settings?
Being around these questions I intended to observe the reality from closer distance. So, I
turned my interest towards the universal and contextual forms of curriculum to know the
underlying reasons behind it that how and why curriculum stakeholders demand either
universal or contextual curriculum.
Adapting curriculum into the local context is taken differently by different countries. It is
different because the understanding of the schools, parents, teachers and society exists
differently. Thus, it is relative to the time, place and context. Basically, such contextual
curriculum is also known as local curriculum or as the process of localization of curriculum
which is designed on the basis of the need of locality and availability of resources and means.
So, the term contextualized and universalized are interchangeably used as localized and
globalized curriculum respectively in this paper.
What is contextual curriculum?
Learning becomes meaningful when it transfers from one context to another. Learners
knowledge should be connected with the phenomena where and how they are living. To make
learning effective; knowledge must be contextualized with the prior understanding of the
learners. Teachers as the facilitator can play the role of catalyst to evoke the past memories of
the learners and help to connect at present in their practical skill. Such types of previous
knowledge now have to link with the real world.
In the contextual curriculum learners are encouraged to learn within the compatible
environment for learning. This compatible environment for learning is mainly associated with
community centered, learner centered and knowledge centered. Community centered learning
environment helps to the learners to be a good social member. Thus, helps to justice to
curriculum from the perspective of community members. Similarly, learning centered
environment is widely discussed and focal part of the contextual curriculum where learners use
cognitive way of knowing the truth by linking the history with present context. In this sense,
contextual curriculum enhances the social and or public pedagogy (Giroux, 2004) and personal
pedagogy (Crick, 2009) for the contextual learners. Contextual learners set the environment of
learning where knowledge is connected with the context.
Looking at the importance of curriculum contextualization, which incorporates the local
knowledge, skill, pedagogy and resources utilization directly benefits to the teacher for their
learning. Weber (2008) explains that “Our conceptual and analytic tools must acknowledge the
importance of the local. This is a call for a multiplicity of critical case and teacher practitioner
studies, across nation, race, region, class, gender, and local circumstances that highlight the
contexts, conditions, and processes of teaching; learn from them…” (p. 300).
The learning contexts can be linked with different social-cultural elements such as language,
skills, and ethno-methods/practices. For an instance, Department of Education (2005) stated that
the need of contextual curriculum is inevitable in the multilingual country Nepal to fulfill the gap
of perception and practice among the teachers, students and parents. However, the mismatch of
understandings among these different stakeholders of curricular activities creates the more
confusion in contextual curriculum practice. It reported that:
“Parents… consciously say, it will be easier to understand Nepali than MT [mother
tongue]…Teachers’ … they feel difficult to teach in MT because they are not good in
using MT. Students were not motivated to be multilingual where they were taught in MT.
It is because of the use of only one MT in the multilingual class” (p. 38).
This is the challenging side of curriculum contextualization in multicultural classroom.
Contextualization for constructing new knowledge
Universalized of curriculum is meant to emphasize local needs and identity in the curriculum.
Emphasizing the needs and identity of local the feeling of ownership among the local people
can be achieved. The ownership of the local people in the curriculum helps to preserve and
sustain identity of the locals. In other words the process of teaching and learning should also be
compatible with the content and available resources. Teaching and learning of such contents
and available resources enhance the local and indigenous practices. So, curriculum needs to be
developed through the process of combination of local content and pedagogy.
Crawford (2001) explained about the five core concepts for constructing new knowledge
through the contextualized mode of
curriculum. Learners prior knowledge
and experiences are related to generate
new knowledge in the present context.
To contextualize learners’ prior
experiences to generate new knowledge
is meta-cognition process of learning.
The important factor that how learners’
experience in the classroom is
challenging for the contextual learning.
The learning environment and level of learners affect the learning outcomes in this model. So,
learners know how to apply the knowledge and experience in the context with reason that why
is it important and what sorts of materials or objects are medium for applying knowledge and
skills. For this propose, learners must share and interact with one another. They require forming
group and work in the panel, field or in the real time situation to ensure the cooperative nature
of the learning. Therefore, learners can internalize the cognitive knowledge, skill and develop
attitude with the context- based earning. In this model curriculum enables the learners to
identify the real problem and its solution within the context by discussing in the group which is
transfer of knowledge and the exact meaning of learning.
What is universalized curriculum?
As the time being, it’s time of global citizen. Wherever you born, at any corner of the world,
you can become a member of globe despite your caste, language, culture, nationality and
Applying Co-operating
profession; you are welcomed. As a global student, I can participate and engage into the
universalized learning through the common learning activities or goals. Those common
learning activities are institutionalized through the global or universalized curriculum.
Universalized curriculum is that which incorporates the basic characteristics, skill and
knowledge for the global citizen. According to Christou (2010) in the present social context, it
needs ‘real time’ learning to be a global citizen. He further states that “[e]ducation in real time
is not simply the aftermath of globalizing forces but a crucial aspect in the synchronization of
learning, the processing of information and, eventually, distribution of wealth (p. 590).
Global trends in curriculum contextualization
In the schools of China, central government has delegated the right of curriculum development
to the schools. Schools are autonomous to develop and make it contextual according to their
need and demand. Their school based curriculum development practice carries certain portion
of content, pedagogy from the contextual phenomenon or local socio-cultural settings. Nanzhao
and Muju (2007) state:
“Local authorities and schools have had greater autonomy in curriculum development,
implementation and management in light of local/school-specific contexts and of learners’
development needs. The proportion of total class hours for ‘local curriculum’ and
‘school-based curriculum’…” (p. 30).
Similarly, Philippines; a country with multilingual and multicultural features systematized and
succeeded in contextualizing curriculum in schools. It incorporated local relevant contents like
local languages, culture, practices, dance and music in its curriculum. A report of UNESCO
published that in Philippines individual schools are provided rights to develop and redesign the
curriculum (UNESCO, 2003). Although, it is not necessary; allocating rights and autonomy to
the schools that ensures curriculum contextualization rather it supports to make it localized in
respect to language, content, pedagogy and teaching and learning materials. Sometimes
allocating autonomy to schools helps to enhance the universalized curriculum. And some of the
views are in-between where universal and contextual both move side by side as Spring (2008)
opined in his article ‘Research on globalization and education’ “there is developing hybrid
educational practices combining the local and the global” (p. 353).
Debate between localization and globalization brought up some critical issues. Different
understandings and perceptions from different level has fostered the practicality of the debate
such as local prosperity is their basic rights and needs too. Some others perceive as the
globalization would be better for the worldly phenomenon. Rests would perhaps prefer the
glocalized, the combination of local and global. But it is relative and perceptive. It, depending
on the perception of the local people, is assumed that “local knowledge [with] global relevance
can lead to global knowledge” (Cordova & Matthiesen, 2010, p. 462). The both local and global
entity needs to merge for the existence of local and global. Local knowledge with global
recognition and global knowledge with local relevancy would be the better resolution of local-
global debate.
The concept of localization and globalization are relative that some would favor the globalization
and some other prefers the localization. Both of the concepts have pros and cons as well. Here,
discussion is elaborated about the concepts of localization and globalization. Globalization is
‘process of blurring’ of the nation-states. The ‘process of blurring’ is means mixture and
openness of state boundaries, exchange of culture, language, trade, food, education, politics and
so on. The race of development in globalization is set in position-based policy that would not
support anyone for progress. “The ‘global community’ is a community of individuals where
everyone starts a race and the individuals who finish first and last deserve what they get”
(Tierney, 2004, p. 16). The race of nation-states in globalization is race of freedom. No any
state would be looser or winner in the race. Rather it is an open structure of social, political,
economic and cultural relation. The position of the states (competitor) is predefined.
Globalization is borderless and means an open society. Everyone (nation-states) can join or
leave the process of globalization. Fundamentally, national and local priorities are minimized in
this process. A mass society with the similar features is created. Globalization, thus, can be
characterized as an ocean. Nation-states swim and try to win the competition. There is no border
in the ocean of globalization. Tierney (2004) defined “[g]lobalization is a social process where
the nation-state as the unit of economic, political, and cultural analysis becomes less important,
or even irrelevant, and in its place are borderless worldwide social relations” (p. 9).
Thus, education in globalization is also blurred and borderless. Nation-states cannot be confined
within the national framework of education. National framework may not be completed to
produce global citizen. It seems not effective to provide the framework for education by
individual nation-states. It cannot define knowledge because nation-states seek the global
adaptation. So, the role of individual nation-state is confined.
Stakeholders’ view in contextual curriculum
In the field I interviewed with stakeholders of curriculum development and implementation.
Among them head teacher, subject teacher, community member and student participated in this
study and reflected ideas about contextualized curriculum.
In the discussion with the teacher, who are practitioner or the facilitator of the curriculum; they
reflected that to follow contextual contents, methods and evaluation system is overload in their
work schedule. “I have to teach seven scheduled periods in a day…” said the English teacher.
Rather applying new teaching pedagogy and context-based learning approach, he is habituated
to follow the traditional method and pattern to teach English in the classroom. The
understanding of English teacher about the contextualized curriculum seems different than
other ‘creative’ pedagogy. Contextualized curriculum is the process and method that helps
students to make connection between their studies in the classroom with everyday life. Teacher
just needs to facilitate them to demonstrate linkage in the prior knowledge and present learning
activities and outcomes.
Another story is here when I met the community member of the school area, he was much
excited in the discussion to making curriculum contextualize. “Yes! It’s good for us to include
local things in our curriculum as per the need of our society. We can mobilize our
surroundings” reflected a community member. From the reflection of community member,
contextualized curriculum can be developed as the need-based curriculum to address the need
of the society. It can help flourish the locality, surroundings and local heritages. On the other,
contextualized curriculum develops the sense of affiliation to the community with the
curriculum and education system. The feeling of owner with curriculum which use local
pedagogy, resources and examples, is reflected in the view of community member.
However, community member are not satisfied with the things that are found in their locality.
The interest in the global knowledge, ideas and access are highly desirable to them. Through
the local context they want to shift instantly into the global sphere. “We want our children
studying and working in the international market so, they need the international consciousness
and knowledge” added the community member.
I found, one of the schools tried to develop and follow context-based curriculum which was
about ‘tourism’ because the community profession was related to the tourism in this area. They
tried to apply it upto secondary level. In this contextual curriculum, students were allocated to
do project work, field visit, tour, excursion, live study and so on to get knowledge about the
tourism sector. It seemed easy for the students who are learning this subject because most of
their family members were engaged in the same profession. They could understand it
appropriately and check it latter at home. Students were excited and seemed benefitted from
this kind of teaching and learning in the classroom. But school administration allocated one
period in a week for this curriculum and rest of the periods and course books were as same as
in many schools in Nepal where they follow traditional pattern of teaching and learning.
Then my query turned into the administrator (head teacher) of the school why they are not
being able to extent those types of classes in their subjects or subject matter. Responding my
question the head teacher replied that there is problem of clear policy statement, resources and
technical and academic knowledge about the contextualized curriculum. “We can develop such
types of modality in curriculum based on our need but there is no any provision of financial
support from the authority” said the head teacher. Similarly, there is problem of skilled teacher,
who are eager to demonstrate their creativity, vigor and willingness to work in creative way.
“Even I can not force to the teacher (my staffs) to apply new pedagogical pattern for the
teaching” head teacher added. I instantly remembered that there may be political reasons every
teacher to make ‘more autonomous’.
I beg pardon for expressing those realities that most of the school teachers are involved into the
political activities rather than their professional career. The habitual teaching and learning
practices in the school are being ‘time consuming’ teaching. Teachers are not in favor of
creative things and innovation for teaching like UNESCO (2003) reported that “new unknown
concepts are introduced, many teachers encounter difficulty in transferring and processing
knowledge and information (p. 37). This is because of low level of efficiency in teaching and
learning pedagogies. Traditional approach of teaching and learning is preferred rather than
having exposure to a new approach like student-centered and or critical pedagogies. So,
teachers attitude, willingness and interest need to arise to cope of with the new changes in the
curriculum and its pedagogical practices even in the case of contextualized curriculum. To raise
the level of higher order thinking among the teachers, “curriculum contextualization must be
included in the teacher training agenda (Mouraz & Leite, 2013, p. 10) that ensures the optimal
implication of curriculum contextualization in our context.
Reconstructivism in curriculum
Curriculum designing and developing processes are bounded by different educational
philosophies and learning theories. Among the many philosophical assumptions applied in
curriculum development, reconstrctivism is one of them; that focuses on the reconstruction of
the knowledge. The knowledge which emerges from the social interaction and dynamism is the
prime focus of the reconstructivist philosophy. Curriculum out of this philosophy helps to
enrich the critical ability of the learners so as to develop their potential towards the social
change. In this sense, reconstructivism philosophy considers learners as the change agent of the
society where their intention is to excavate social justice among the social tensions. On this
philosophy, curriculum focuses on the student-centered approach, project-based and problem-
based learning to develop rationality among the learners. Through the process of deconstruction
learners can reconstruct new knowledge which leads them towards the reality of the society.
Reconstructivism takes place when learner can make connection between the learning and
experiences in everyday life. If so, this is practicality of education and which arises keen
interest in the learner to learn more. The knowledge for the individual would be more relevant
when it is constructed within the experiences and intended learning activities. Learning linked
with the context, social setting and experiences of the learner can generate new dimension of
knowledge. So, learning strategy, content and place should be linked with the context. All the
components of the curriculum should be made contextual to get more learning opportunities.
Education and globalization now are intrinsically interrelated. Local indigenous knowledge
only may not have been adequate for the life skill in global level. And global education system
also may not be sole ideal means for local development. Rizvi (2007) concluded in his study of
postcolonialism and globalization of education that “we need to avoid the universalistic
impulse at the core of many conceptions of globalization. Most education occurs at the local
level, but localities have never been more connected to outside forces” (p. 262). There is need
of global recognition of the local culture, language and pedagogy in education. I think, global
practice and culture is the sum of the local culture and practice. But people look global and
local as a separate entity.
Christou, M. (2010). Education in real time: The globalization of synchronized learning.
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improving student motivation and achievement in mathematics and science. Waco,
Texas: CCI Publishing, Inc.
Crick, R. (2009). Inquiry based learning: reconciling the personal with the public in a
democratic and archaeological pedagogy. Curriculum Journal, 20 (1), 73-92.
Department of Education. (2005). Mother tongue intervention at primary level [A study report
submitted by Centre for Research, Education and Development (CRED)]. Kathmandu:
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Mouraz, A. & Leite, C. (2013). Putting knowledge in context: Curriculum contextualized in
history classes. Transformative Dialogues: Teaching and Learning Journal, 6(3) April
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... According to Sharma (2014), learning becomes meaningful when it is transferred from one context to another. Learners' knowledge should be connected with the phenomena of where and how they are living. ...
... Furthermore, in the contextual curriculum, learners are encouraged to learn within the compatible environment for learning. This compatible environment for learning is mainly associated with community centered, learner centered and knowledge centered learning (Sharma, 2014). In this sense, contextual curriculum enhances the social and/or public pedagogy (Giroux, 2004as cited in Sharma, 2014 and personal pedagogy (Crick, 2009 as cited in Sharma, 2014) for the contextual learners. ...
... This compatible environment for learning is mainly associated with community centered, learner centered and knowledge centered learning (Sharma, 2014). In this sense, contextual curriculum enhances the social and/or public pedagogy (Giroux, 2004as cited in Sharma, 2014 and personal pedagogy (Crick, 2009 as cited in Sharma, 2014) for the contextual learners. Contextual learners set the environment of learning where knowledge is connected with the context. ...
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... According to Sharma (2014), learning becomes meaningful when it is transferred from one context to another. Learners' knowledge should be connected with the phenomena of where and how they are living. ...
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The author discusses the evolution of ideas about the relationship between national and international development and educational change since World War II. He critically reviews relevant literature in comparative and international education, focusing on the concept of teachers’ work. The analyses draw on theories of postcolonialism. The author argues that virtually without exception, studies of, and theories about, teaching as work are based on the experiences of the northern hemisphere, particularly developed countries. He calls for qualitative methodologies and fieldwork to analyze teaching and teaching as work in modern South Africa and other subaltern countries. The research agenda seeks to revise existing notions of teachers’ work emphasizing conditions in industrialized countries and to interrogate their utility given the profoundly different conditions in developing countries. It also seeks to make problematic conventional understandings of globalization and glocal development, arguing that these too should be revised given empirical data on teachers and teaching in poor countries.
In a globalizing world of intense intercultural and transnational interactions, learning and knowledge are becoming increasingly more standardized and homogeneous based on the assumption that the world is functioning in real time. This drive for standardization (expressed in practices such as harmonization of higher education, national curriculum standards and international testing) is facilitated in part by technological innovation and it takes place in a world of shrinking time—space where time is seen as uniform, linear and de-contextualized. The author argues that the concept of time is central in the construction of knowledge, the experience of difference and the labour of pedagogy. The dominant assumption of living in a synchronized, globalized world where everyone is connected in real time has implications for the ways in which educational practices generate new ‘scientific’ ways of constructing otherness and justifying inequality, albeit under the banners of quality, accountability and choice.
Research on globalization and education involves the study of intertwined worldwide discourses, processes, and institutions affecting local educational practices and policies. The four major theoretical perspectives concerning globalization and education are world culture, world systems, postcolonial, and culturalist. The major global educational discourses are about the knowl- edge economy and technology, lifelong learning, global migration or brain cir- culation, and neoliberalism. The major institutions contributing to global educational discourses and actions are the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the World Trade Organization, the United Nations, and UNESCO. International testing, in particular the Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), and instruction in English as the language of com- merce are contributing to global uniformity of national curricula. Critics of current global trends support educational alternatives that will preserve local languages and cultures, ensure progressive educational practices that will pro- tect the poor against the rich, and protect the environment and human rights.
Neo-liberalism has reached a new stage in the United States, buttressed largely by the almost seamless alliances formed among the Bush administration, religious fundamentalists, neo-conservative extremists, the dominant media, and corporate elites. This article explores the various ways in which neo-liberal cultural politics works as a form of public pedagogy to devalue the meaning of the social contract, education, and citizenship by defining higher education primarily as a financial investment and learning as a form of training for the workforce. Aggressively fostering its attack on the welfare state, unions, non-commodified public spheres, and any critical vestige of critical education, neo-liberal politics makes it increasingly more difficult to address the necessity of a political education in which active and critical political agents have to be formed, educated, and socialized into the world of politics. This article explores how the intersection of cultural studies and public pedagogy offers a challenge to both the ideology and practice of neo-liberalism as a form of cultural politics. In doing, so it outlines how the pedagogical can become more political in the classroom and how the political can become more pedagogical outside of the classroom via the educational force of the wider culture.