Course taster

The curriculum as content

Many people still equate a curriculum with a syllabus: an outline and summary of the content to be covered in an education or training course. For many, the syllabus will relate to courses leading to examinations, and this is often expressed in the language used. For example, teachers talk of the syllabus associated with the OCR Board English GCSE exam (a UK qualification in a specific subject typically taken by school students aged 14–16). OCR is a leading UK awarding body that provides qualifications that engage people of all ages and abilities at school, at college, in work or through part-time learning programmes (OCR 2023).

Syllabus documents may be simply a series of headings with some additional notes that set out the areas that may be examined. They will not generally indicate the relative importance of the topics or the order in which they are to be studied. In some cases, those who compile a syllabus tend to follow the traditional textbook approach of an 'order of contents' or a pattern prescribed by a 'logical' approach to the subject. Some syllabus documents will go into more detail than others – you may want to reflect on the different documents you have seen.

Thus, an approach to curriculum theory and practice that focuses on the syllabus is only really concerned with content, not with the processes and methods by which it is transmitted to students. Where people are concerned only with content, they are likely to limit their planning to a consideration of the content or the body of knowledge that they wish to transmit. Kelly (2009) implies that this is indeed the case with teaching (such as training and instruction) that serves some extrinsic purpose. However, education may be viewed as a different concept that is focused on intrinsic value – an activity that we engage in for its own sake.