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Setting Norms and Standards for Quality Curricula

A quality curriculum requires careful planning, attention to context, and clear guidance from norms and standards. But such norms and standards do not exist as yet! This leaves countries without a reference point, as they design and develop quality national curricula. In 2015, the IBE focused on its core function to set curriculum norms and standards.
  • By In Focus
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  • 19/10/ 2016
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For some years now, the IBE has maintained that “curriculum matters” more than education researchers, policy makers or practitioners realize. This message is increasingly pertinent, and it deserves repeating, given the demands that the global Education 2030 Agenda places on national curriculum frameworks to adapt to the many changes and challenges ahead. Indeed, concern for the quality and relevance of the curriculum permeates any discussion on education and development.

The curriculum is crucial for achieving Target 4.1 of SDG4: By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes. It is also critical for learning and living in the complex, ever-changing world of the 21st century. To move beyond the rhetoric and implement a truly relevant 21st-century education will require far more than simply adding new content into current curricula and digital technology into schools. It will take a concerted focus on the design, development, delivery, and assessment of national curricula.

This concerted effort requires clear guidance from clear norms and standards. During 2015, the IBE commenced work on creating this much-needed reference point, as a core part of its function as a norms- and standard-setting institution.

For a start, the IBE, in collaboration with the UNESCO Chair in Curriculum Development (CUDC) at the University of Quebec at Montreal (UQAM), articulated sound criteria and a set of 25 indicators that can help assure that a curriculum is of high quality. For now, these indicators are structured around four main dimensions: education policies, curriculum orientations, curriculum profiles, and curriculum experienced through learning.

Developing them required first of all the recognition of contextual specificities of national curricula and that no “one size fits all”. The indicators were therefore developed as generic pointers that countries can adapt to their respective contexts.

The work began in Côte d’Ivoire in 2015, where 40 Ministry of Education officials piloted the indicators, as they worked through their curriculum reform process. The pilot revealed the broader role those indicators could play. For instance, they could help create an enabling environment for reforming curricula, and even education systems more generally. The Ivorian pilot generated a set of short-, medium-, and long-term objectives to be later translated into a three-year nationwide education action plan. The potentially transformative role of these indicators and strategies responded to the country’s demand for real-time, bespoke solutions, which are also innovative, transparent, and easily understandable.

A mock application was also conducted by participants in the face-to-face session of the 2015 Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) Diploma in Curriculum Design and Development. Participants recognized the long-standing “norms and standards vacuum” in the field, which leaves practitioners without the tools they need to assess and ensure the quality of their curricula. They saw that developing generic norms and standards was a key step toward understanding, reviewing, and improving the ways that curriculum reforms are currently undertaken in the region.

In partnerships with curriculum agencies and institutes worldwide, the IBE will continue to develop, pilot and adapt the norms and standards in real contexts. At the end of the journey, the IBE will be able to offer Member States a valuable output: collectively validated tools that can guide high-quality curricula design and development