Academic journal article Planning and Changing

Fostering School-Based Curriculum Development in the Context of New Educational Initiatives in Singapore

Academic journal article Planning and Changing

Fostering School-Based Curriculum Development in the Context of New Educational Initiatives in Singapore

Article excerpt

Introduction

The curriculum landscape in Singapore has been undergoing significant changes recently. While there exist a national curriculum and a central curriculum agency, the Curriculum Planning and Development Division (CPDD) within the Ministry of Education (MoE), there is a movement toward what is termed "school-based curriculum development." This movement can be seen as a consequence of the implementation of numerous educational initiatives progressively launched since the mid-1990s. Such a movement creates new challenges for schools and teachers, and has far-reaching implications for curriculum development, instructional effectiveness, and teachers' professional development.

This article explores the meanings, challenges, and implications of school-based curriculum development (SBCD) within the context of current educational initiatives in Singapore. SBCD has been of particular interest to many international scholars. There exists a body of empirical studies examining various aspects of SBCD in terms of teacher roles (e.g., Bezzina, 1991; Elliot, 1997; Keys, 2000; Shoham, 1995), student roles (e.g., Brooker & Macdonald, 1999; Mac an Ghaill, 1992), community involvement (May, 1992; Ramsey, Hawk, Harold, Marriot, & Poskitt, 1993), and processes (e.g., Cocklin, Simpson, & Stacey, 1995; Marsh, Day, Hannay, & McCutcheon, 1990; Willis, 1997). These studies have contributed to our understanding about the complexity and challenges that schools and teachers have to face when engaging in SBCD activities. Some scholars examine the meanings of SBCD in the light of the tension between centralized control and decentralized control. For instance, Brady (1995) explores the notion of SBCD in the Australian context of the simultaneous movement toward centralization (the development of a national curriculum) and decentralization (the shift toward self-managing schools) from the 1970s to the mid-1990s. Reid (1987) examines issues concerning curricular decision-making as the British move toward a nationally mandated curriculum, overturning a long tradition of teachers' and local control over curricular matters.

Our investigation can be viewed as a continuation of the efforts of Brady and Reid in exploring the meaning of SBCD from the standpoint of centralized and decentralized curriculum development. Nevertheless, our exploration of the meanings of SBCD in the current context of a changing curriculum landscape in Singapore indicates certain unique features and implications. In contrast to the U.K. and Australia, Singapore is undergoing a shift in curriculum decision making from its central agency (CPDD) to schools which, we believe, creates a distinct set of problems and challenges. Through this exploration, we attempt to problematize the notion of SBCD through questioning some of its basic assumptions. This task, it seems to us, has been largely overlooked in the literature on SBCD.

To provide a context for the discussion, we start with describing the current changing curriculum landscape in Singapore. We then scrutinize the notion of SBCD and point out the either-or fallacy inherent in its discourse. What follows is a discussion of what we believe SBCD entails in the current context of Singapore, with the introduction of the notion of "school-based curriculum enactment" which better characterizes its main strategy. We then move to examine what it might take for teachers to effectively undertake school-based curriculum enactment in the context of current educational initiatives. This is followed by the discussion of two conditions that, we argue, can foster school-based curriculum enactment in terms of the development of "educative" curriculum materials and teacher professional development.

Changes to the Curriculum Landscape

Singapore's changes to the curriculum landscape must be understood in their historical context (colonial period: 1819-1959; post-colonial period: 1959-1987). …

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