Conceptions of curriculum


A curriculum entails an entire scope of the formative deed and also experience which occurs in and out of school - Conceptions of curriculum introduction. A curriculum being an ideal rather than a concrete reality of deeds and experiences forms people to what and who they are. On the other hand a curriculum theory describes the philosophy of various approaches to the enactment and the development of the curriculum. There are however different approaches of the curriculum theory and they include; the social approach, the humanist approach, the historical approach and the developmental approach.

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Conceptions of curriculum and their part in the shaping of education

There are various theories on curriculum and they all play significant roles in shaping the education systems in existence. (University of Phoenix 2002)

Social reconstruction conception

One of the conceptions is the social reconstruction which firmly opposes the other theories on curriculum. The social Reconstructionists would argue that the other conceptions merely support the status quo and they further claim that the school curriculum should however affect the social reforms which would help in producing a better society for all the people. In the social reconstruction theory the betterment and the needs of the society are placed above the individual needs. The conception also has three strands that may be determined from the literature and each one of them represents a very different purpose within the theory.  (University of Phoenix 2002)

Humanistic approach conception

Another conception is the humanistic approach also known as the personal relevance conception. This conception supports the view that the curriculum in the schools should provide all the learners with the intrinsically rewarding experiences so as to enhance their personal development. This being the most recent idea of the humanistic perspective it further relies more on the work of the experimental humanistic and the third force psychologists who argue for a personal growth that is enhanced.

 The concept on the other hand claims that the curriculum should however provide various opportunities which would enhance the self concept of an individual so that a person can achieve self actualization which is the heart of the humanistic curriculum. Similarly the humanistic conception has somewhat been enlarged by some writers who have included the notions of the mysticism in confluent education and the radical critics of the 1970s still under the umbrella of the humanistic concept. This may however be stretching the concept too far. The humanistic educators have adopted a holistic approach toward the curriculum and this has affected the integration of the and also the effective psychomotor domains.

 This approach however gives the humanists great strength in their approach to the selection of the content and also the possibility of producing unity within the learner. In this theory the content frequently has situations that are valuing and also experiences which have social emphasis and self understanding which will later produce a learning experience that is enriching and also very vital. In this conception the content is very important since it is perceived as the liberating force and also as the one which enhances the growth of the learner towards self actualization. In this approach however the most essential feature is that there is need for the teacher to provide a very supportive learning environment which would essentially enhance self learning. There is also a lot of emphasis on the integrated holistic real life approach in the learning process where the teacher is seen as the facilitator supporter, resource person and also an understanding adult.

 In the humanistic curriculum the experimental learning is favoured and also other techniques such as the meditation, small discussion and also encounter groups which all attempt to enhance the personal growth and they also rely on the mutual trust between the learner and the teacher. In measuring the students performance this approach is highly opposed to evaluation and it emphasizes on the personal growth rather than precisely measuring the student’s performance on some criteria that is arbitrary defined.

The techniques that are employed in emphasizing on the process rather than the product include; interviews, observation, participation, anecdotal and reflective records and the personal diaries. In general the humanistic conception emphasizes on the assessment that takes a low profile with the learning experience being more important than the attaining very high marks.

Cognitive conception

Another theory is the cognitive conception process and it is highly criticized for its content bound that is very excessive and it also consequently underemphasizes on the processes at the expense of the content. The purpose of this conception was to provide the students with the necessary skills and processes which will help them learn how to learn. This approach also aimed at providing the students with opportunities which they would employ in enhancing the intellectual faculties which they possess. This conception is however based on the argument that the mind has numerous faculties that are cognitive which should and also can be enhanced deliberately. They include the ability to solve various problems, the ability to conceptualize, synthesize, analyze and also deal with ambiguity. The cognitive faculties however need a deliberate attention if at all they are to grow and also assist an individual student. The content in this conception in accordance to its proponents emphasize that the most important thing to learn are the numerous skills that enable an individual to address the world and also solve their problems conceptually. In acquiring the cognitive skills in isolation however lacks any meaning to the learners. The academic disciplines should therefore create a content base for the cognitive processes conception such that the framework or the structure is needed to make sense in acquiring the cognitive skills.  For instance in a history subject this theory would still employ the subjects framework as a foundation of the study of this subject. But on the other hand the student should acquire more cognitive skills rather than the memorization of the vast numbers and also facts. The cognitive approach advocates for the development of a curriculum which encourages the teachers to use the various combinations of the teacher cantered and the student cantered learning and also teaching strategies. However once the students are competent with the skills they can then be encouraged to solve the various problems. In this conception the emphasis on evaluation is placed on the concept application and also acquisition that may be further achieved by testing and also the use of the problem solving situations. The quality of learning and also the rigor are highly valued in this conception and in particular if they are applied in specific contexts. In the past decade there has been evidence on the wide acceptance of the need to incorporate the strong skills component in the subject based curriculum.

Academic rationalist conception

 Another conception is the academic rationalist approach which includes more than just knowledge in the content but it also includes the skills of that particular discipline, the values which are integral to it and also the mode of thought which is associated to it. For instance in a school setting mathematics would be taught by the use of the knowledge skills and also values that have been associated with the mathematicians even though they maybe simplified for a  particular learning situation. However they are constantly updated and thus there is an accumulation of wisdom of the discipline and it further grows in strength. (Print 1993)

A teacher cantered approach tends to be highly recommended by the academic rationalists within a school context. They also emphasize on the expository methods in transmitting knowledge and skills and also in revealing the values that are acquired invariably through the role modelling. This approach has received numerous supports from several academicians as being very essential for the young learners in understanding their disciplines. (Savage and Sherry 1991) The academic rationalism curriculum emphasizes on examinations and also the testing of skills and knowledge and the quality as well as rigour in the learning process are also highly valued and the student performance assessment has become very extensive. There are however some concerns that the assessments are being used more as an end in itself other than as a means of providing the feedback to the teachers and the learners. There is grave danger that the assessments will overpower the learning situation value in itself.

The role of the curriculum conceptions in the shaping of education

The curriculum conceptions help in shaping of education through the curriculum implementation, alignment and assessment. This is because the curriculum content borrows its characteristics from the five conceptions and this will determine the design of a curriculum. The most suitable characteristics in a curriculum conception are then embraced to be apart of an educational curriculum. On the other hand the curriculum conceptions help the curriculum developers to in understanding the trends of curriculum from the past to the most recent. This is beneficial since they can be able to integrate various aspects from different conceptions and come up with a wholesome educational curriculum. (Print 1993)

Personal conception of curriculum

In my personal conception of a curriculum I would look for a design element that is central to many applied fields and also emphasize on utmost simplicity which is a very desirable characteristic of a curriculum with a good design. However my concern in the planning of the curriculum would be more than simplicity and I would further seek for a wider and larger context so as to cope with the necessary complexity and also diversity.  My main consideration would be implementing a curriculum concept that has the principal forms of the curriculum designs that are found in the schools and educational systems. According to Pritt (1993) he sees and understands the curriculum in terms of the five conceptions.

 The curriculum that strongly reflects the concept of the academic rationalist highly emphasizes on the knowledge, skills and also values which are to be found in the various academic disciplines. On the other hand a curriculum should also reflect the conception of the cognitive processes which would provide the learners with the required skills and processes. This would then help them with various opportunities to employ and also enhance the variety of their intellectual faculties that they possess.

An example of the application of my conception in the military field would be, in the American military the training curriculum content according to the humanistic conception provides the trainees with some valuing experiences that enable them to further achieve their self actualisation. Similarly in the curriculum the instructors play a very significant role in the training process and the techniques that are employed in the curriculum content includes participation as well as interviews.

Global and local issues impacting curriculum development

There are various global as well as local issues which impact the development of the curriculum. The students will however need to understand their role as students both locally and globally. Their understanding of various issues such as social justice, poverty and also sustainable development would greatly help them to realize the sole importance of taking action in order to improve the global curriculum for the future generations. There are local issues which impact curriculum development and they include the values, the aims and also the purpose of the curriculum. The global issues however include global citizenship, conflict resolution, social justice, values and perceptions, sustainable development, interdependence, human rights and diversity. (Eisner 1999)

This affects the development of a curriculum such that all the students globally need to gain the knowledge understanding and also skills that are necessary for them to become responsible, active and also global citizens who are well informed. For instance in the English language curriculum there should be usage of texts which concern the general global; issues. (Print 1993)

sustainable development
In this issue of sustainable development it is important that the learners understand the need in maintaining and also improving the quality of life without causing any damages to the environment. For instance in the geography and science curriculum the learners should be taught the principles of development that is sustainable and they should also be made aware of the positive as well as the negative effects of the technological and the scientific developments on the environment. The learners through the religious education curriculum should be taught concerning the beliefs on creation and how the world should be cared for.

conflict resolution
In the issue of conflict resolution the learner’s needs to understand how various conflicts are a barrier to the development process and also the need for their resolution in the promotion of harmony.  In the English curriculum the learners should however be encouraged to discuss their different viewpoints including the ones that are expressed in literature as well as express the conflict through drama.

values and perceptions
The issue of values and perceptions also affects the development of the curriculum and thus the learners should develop a critical evaluation of the developing images of the world and also appreciate the values and attitudes of other people. For instance in the science curriculum the learners should be able to learn the different cultures and to what extent they influence the scientific ideas and also how they are accepted valued and used by different people. (Codd, 1999)

social justice
On the issue of the social justice the learners should understand its importance as an element of both the improved welfare of the people and the sustainable development. For instance, in the design and technology curriculum should enable the learners to explore the ethics and the values which relate to the application of that subject.

human rights
On the issue of the human rights the curriculum should help the learners understand and know their human rights and the breath of their universality. For instance the science curriculum should enable the learners to understand how universal their basic needs are.

The curriculum should also assist the learners in understanding their diversities in all aspects.

In the issue of interdependence the curriculum should be developed in such a way that it will help the learners to understand how places people and also environments are interrelated and that all events have future repercussions globally.

Strategic and operational issues impacting curriculum development

The strategic and operational issues which affect the curriculum development process and they are inclusive of the financial issues, the adaptability to the new curriculum, the curriculum development workforce, curriculum planning implementation, alignment and also the assessment processes. (Chapman 1999)


In conclusion a curriculum being an ideal rather than a concrete reality of deeds and experiences forms people to what and who they are and a curriculum conception describes the philosophy of various approaches to the enactment and the development of the curriculum. (Cole & Suggett, 1994)


Chapman, D. (1999): So you want to teach for the Environment. Environmental

Education Research 5

Codd, J (1999): Educational Reform, accountability and the culture of distrust. New

Zealand Journal Educational Studies, 34

Cole, P. & Suggett, D (1994): Understanding Teaching, Curriculum and the social

Context of schooling. New York: Macmillan,

Eisner, E. (1999): The three curricular that all schools teach. The Educational

Imagination. New York: Macmillan,

Print, M. (1993): Curriculum development and design. St Leonard’s, Australia. Unwin &

Allen publishers.

Savage, E. and Sherry, L. (1991):  A conceptual framework for technology education.

International Technology Education Association. Reston, VA.

University of Phoenix. (2002): Foundations of Curriculum and Instruction. Boston:

Pearson Custom Publishing.


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