Why teaching content matters and concerns


The curriculum of the educational system, that is, what should we teach children and young people, has been and continues to be a constant cause of concern.

In this article I will focus, first of all, on analyzing which model of the curriculum is the one that best explains its configuration in the educational system and what its basic purposes are. Then, why educational reforms, which affect the curriculum, have repeated limitations to reach basic agreements. Finally, how do I think the contents of the teaching should be; especially in compulsory education.

There are different theories or models that explain the curriculum. The analyzes on the design and development of the reforms are also varied. Every time there is a change in the educational system, the public and social debate increases and the contents acquire greater prominence. Debates and controversies arise about their consideration in the ordering of the teachings.

A set of related items

In the case of school education, the so-called technical theories of the curriculum must be taken into account. They define the curriculum as a set of interrelated elements: competences, objectives, content, teaching methods or evaluation criteria. And in this way they appear in the regulation of the teachings.

Other theories, of a practical nature, pay more attention to the educational relationships that are established in the teaching and learning processes. On the other hand, critical theories support the usefulness of the curriculum to promote some possibilities for social transformation. In any case, all these theories influence, to varying degrees, the curriculum.

Considering this as a set of related elements, what is its main purpose? In the case of the Spanish educational system, currently undergoing reform, the basic aspects of these elements are called minimum education. And its regulation has a double purpose: to ensure common training and to guarantee the validity of academic qualifications.

The selection of the contents to be taught is therefore part of the minimum teachings. And these are the object of development, later, by the different educational administrations and educational centers. As will be seen in the following sections, the way in which the reforms are carried out has a relevant influence on the selection of teaching content. And these, when defined, are also related to models of person and society that are built, preferably, in school education.

The limited effects of the reforms

The very nature of the reforms has a lot to do with how little effect they achieve. Generally, they are broad changes that affect different areas of the educational system. And, for this reason, they tend to emphasize great goals, greater challenges, without in many cases adopting sufficient measures to facilitate the conditions to achieve them.

On the other hand, the adoption of the changes is trusted once the normative regulations that establish them are published. When, in reality, there are many other issues that play a decisive role. This is the case of the organization and operation of the centers or of teacher professional development.

Since these reforms affect basic rights, such as education, they require public participation processes in their design. Therefore, a reform will be more assumed if in its preparation basic agreements are reached, with broad support, that predispose the changes and their implementation. However, such agreements are not usually viable and educational reforms follow one another over time according to changes in government. From which it is an undesirable instability, among other aspects, for the definition of the essential contents, of the basic knowledge, of the teaching.

General characteristics of the contents

Among the elements of the curriculum, the content tends to attract the most interest. Although similar attention should be paid to others. This is the case of the competencies and objectives that are intended, of how it is taught and learned, or how the evaluation is carried out.

Controversy over the nature of the content also opens. If they are to be, mainly, concepts, facts or data. Or if the same attention should be paid to practical knowledge and to those others that lead to the development of attitudes. Similarly, how to teach content leads to a debate on the role of teachers and students in the teaching and learning processes. With some peculiarities that affect, for example, the sense of memorization or the ability of students to learn to learn.

The basic contents of teaching must correspond, then, to that knowledge, in its broadest sense, whose acquisition is necessary for all students. Since, not reaching them, a situation of personal and social disadvantage may arise. It is, therefore, about content that must be acquired with the conditions of school education: at the age of this and with age companions. So that, adequately achieved, subsequent continuing education processes become viable and effective.

Such basic knowledge requires a broad social consensus, being indispensable and essential. And its teaching must be carried out in a way that guarantees the general acquisition of the contents and the meaningful character of the learning.

In short, the contents of education matter and concern because they are the main reference in the reform processes. And, above all, because they have to support the adequate personal and social development of the students.

Author Bio: Antonio Montero Alcaide is Professor of the Department of Didactics and Educational Organization. Faculty of Educational Sciences at the University of Seville