International School Curriculum Planning - from a Sri Lankan perspective

From the mid-1980s there has been a world-wide debate about curricula being narrow and divisive suggesting that they should be broader. Reforms such as Curriculum 2000 in the UK, debates on Advanced Level and IB Diploma have all been a part of this process. For International Schools in Sri Lanka, it is even more of a challenge where they not only have to be abreast of these changes but tune them to suit Sri Lankan students. While we cater to many international students, we have to be aware of the fact that a good majority of students in all International Schools in Sri Lanka are Sri Lankan nationals.
It is my view that in planning their curricula, schools themselves have a large role to play.

While most schools adopt the curricula provided to them by awarding bodies such as Edexcel and Cambridge for examination classes, they tend to have their own curricula at primary and junior levels. This should be done with caution since one needs to be aware that designing of curricula needs professional expertise and research. Therefore, it is important that the schools base their core programmes of study on time tested curricula such as the English National Curriculum, the Scottish Curriculum, the PYP/MYP of the International Baccalaureate etc.. This does not mean, however, that we should implement such curricula en bloc, and the ideal should be a curriculum that incorporates a few changes taking into consideration the local needs and aspirations.

There are several important aspects that need to be considered in planning curricula that should prepare the learners of today to face the challenges of tomorrow. The schools should be aware that the expectations of the Universities too have undergone changes in the recent past. It is seen that the breadth within subjects is as important, or even more important than the depth. The move from the traditional Ordinary Level to the new International GCSEs (IGCSE) can perhaps be attributed to this new thinking. In the same manner it is important that students are provided exposure to many subject areas, especially during their early part of schooling going up to OL or IGCSE. Unlike in the Sri Lankan set up, the UK awarding bodies do not specifiy a minimum or a maximum number of subjects and it is up to the individual schools to provide the necessary exposure to students of this age. After all, as they grow up they tend to specialize more and more and it could be that it is only in school that they learn to appreciate and enjoy aspects of learning that they do not carry on to their higher studies. It is also important to advise students to combine different types of subjects (eg. a mix of arts, business and sciences) rather than getting them to take many subjects that are similar in nature.

It is encouraging to see that there is now a growing awareness of the lack of certain key factors in today's curricula that contribute to the development of a child's personality. Learning should address Skills and Behaviours in addition to Knowledge. Incorporating Soft Skills early in a student's life cannot be more emphasized. There is a renewed interest in combining academic and vocational qualifications, which in my opinion is a step in the right direction. Finally, whatever curricula a school implements, it is very important to remember that for student 'enrichment', it is essential to provide time for them to be involved in sports, co-curricular activities, community work etc.. Even at University admission, all reputed institutions look for these aspects through the personal statement that the student provides and the references. Unfortunately, it can be too late when they realize the importance of such aspects.

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