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How to select a curriculum solution or academic program for your school?

New School Curriculums are being introduced and the existing ones are being updated at a rate that the entire scenario of school education has truly become dynamic. To keep pace with the changing times, curriculums change and to keep pace with the changing curriculums, innovative pedagogical approaches must develop. The age of curricular interventions has finally come to the developing world.

I intend to discuss, in the present article, various ‘curriculum solutions’, ‘pedagogical interventions’ and ‘education management initiatives’—by whichever name they are referred to—in some depth.

How_to_select_a_curriculum_solution_or_academic_program_for_your_school?

To begin with, they are curricular practices of the progressive mold. Transforming learning from a necessary but humdrum exercise to a highly desirable and enjoyable experience for all the children is the most common theme upon which curriculum solutions are structured. All of them denounce rote learning which prioritizes form over function and alienates knowledge from the application.

It is notable that the postulates of progressive education are not recent; they were propounded, in an organized manner, at least a century ago and have gradually had defining effects on the pedagogical culture across the world. Progressive education fundamentally discourages rote learning and approaches the curricular practice in an interactive fashion pressing on the importance of assimilation and familiarity. It had a profound effect on the pedagogical practice and was instrumental in the formulation of policies of education in several countries of the developed world including U.S., Britain, Canada, and Japan among others. All these nations have pondered on the possibilities that an ideal school curriculum is supposed to create and have experimented with the school curriculums and pedagogical thoughts and practices before something constructive emerged.

There are instances of introduction and eventual abandonment of advance curriculum interventions in mathematics, science, languages and even early childhood curriculum. There are a host of educational philosophies that have been inspirational in these, say, macro-level exercises, some of which are household names like Montessori and some are somewhat obscure.

In India, these curricular reviews have taken place after our national priorities with regard to universal education were addressed. I am deliberately not dwelling upon the eastern educational philosophies that have their own sphere of influence in India as well as overseas. The educational philosophies that brought about evolved educational models like Shantiniketan and have a very diverse perspective when it comes to individual differences in scholastic and artistic capabilities, deserve to be addressed in a separate article.

For the current purpose, a look at curricular reviews undertaken at the national level would suffice. The most extensive review that was carried out and put into effect was taken up by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) and embodied in the National Curriculum Framework 2005 (NCF 2005). If we go through the said document, we will find the elements of progressive education, experiential learning, and social responsibility and personalized learning. This is a massive project, not to say ambitious. The educational framework came out in 2005 and a decade and a half later we are still not in any position to say that it had made the difference in the school education on the national level. The truth remains, that we still satisfy ourselves with the education that does little to differentiate between syllabus and curriculum.

Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) tailored its curriculum to suit the needs of the 21st century. The new textbooks issued by the NCERT bear testimony to the fact that interactive and hands-on learning was intended to be promoted. Pedagogical changes, however, are hard to come by unless teacher training is correspondingly upgraded. Given the scale at which changes are intended, they are bound to happen eventually as they have to be streamlined at state and regional levels.

We cannot afford to wait indefinitely. The problem that stares us in the face is that of the scarcity of schools that are truly equipped to deliver standard schooling and raise students with scholastic capabilities and 21st-century skills to excel in higher education. There is undoubtedly a significant number of government and private schools that provide quality education and make available the necessary conditions for the all-round development of the students, yet the schools are numbered where all students come out with their individual potentials wholly explored. And this inequity of development, scholastic and non-scholastic, applies to schools subscribing to boards of education across the board including the international ones—Cambridge and IB.

Settling for a curricular program — the choices schools have

A school can choose to go with the curriculum prescribed by the boards, use the textbooks and prescribe supplements from various publications available in the market and continue with the predefined assessment patterns and conventional classroom practices, in which case, learning outcomes will depend upon the individual motivation levels of the students and the proficiency of individual teachers. At any rate, this conventional option will most likely not produce dramatic or uniform learning outcomes.

A school can invent its own curricular practices. It is the option demanding the most industrious participants. This is a practice followed in IB schools as it has a framework to draw a curriculum from and teachers participate in curriculum framing. This also implies attention to the needs of the median scholastic capabilities of the class. Any school can opt for doing this if the teachers are sufficiently inventive, ready to learn and at least some of them have skills that are significantly more than a general familiarity with digital technology (or you must recruit professional help in this regard). Drawing your own curriculum and devising curricular practice requires teamwork, visionary leadership and tremendous motivation to increase learning outcomes, not to say a deep understanding of progressive pedagogical principles. If this could be accomplished, the likelihood of improvement in the learning outcomes is indeed high.

The third option available is to opt for a ‘ready-made’ or ‘ready to use’ curriculum solution available in the market. The challenge is to make the correct choice. The curriculum solution providers—which we elaborate upon later in this article—claim to provide easy solutions to complex problems of curriculum implementation and promise positive reception from the student body as well as teachers. You have to apply their prescribed curricular practices which typically include templates for lesson planning and assessment in a digital format. In at least some cases, buying curriculum solutions fits the definition of outsourcing education. It is not to be seen necessarily as a negative connotation as it can enhance the learning outcomes and does not impose upon the autonomy of the institution.

Enter Curriculum Solutions

Pressed with time and laboring under parental expectations–and competition of course– schools are increasingly feeling the need to reinvent and private unaided schools enjoy the liberty to do so. These can be termed as micro-level interventions dealing with the gaps in the pedagogy and inconsistencies in the curriculums that amount to a disparity in academic performances and eventual loss of potentialities due to disuse. Taking a leaf out of Voltaire who said that minds differ more than faces, these curriculum solutions strive to individualize learning without hampering the curricular goals, however with varying results that depend upon several other factors.

Some of the curriculum solutions are a combination of digital applications and modern pedagogical applications. Some are technology intensive Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) tools and some are digitally driven pedagogical innovations coupled with school management modules.

The second decade of the 21st century has seen the advent of the number of organized approaches to the curriculums which are all distinct in their own right but, at the same time, bear striking commonalities. The term ‘curriculum solutions’ is indeed not the term they all are likely to identify themselves with, however, for the sake of discourse alone—not for depreciation—we will use the term.

The format of presentation of all these curriculum solutions differs; most of them that are the subject of the present discussion come in form of packages that a given school can attain for a fee and, in at least one case, we see the curricular approach or vision expand into franchisor institute/school unto itself.

To comprehend the existent brands of curriculum solutions, Let us review their formats, approaches and other characteristics individually:

XSEED Education: This an early entrant in the curriculum enterprise, headquartered in Singapore with extensive operations in India calls itself a ‘learning company’. It is a K-8 educational solution i.e. its interventions range from kindergarten to class 8, covering roughly the age group 3-13 years. Although currently headquartered in Singapore, the numbers are not explicit as far as the adoption of XSEED is concerned in the schools of the South East Asian nation

XSEED dwells at length about ‘transforming education’ by creating a rank of XSEED teachers in XSEED institutions. The teachers purportedly transform classroom learning through individual attention and participatory learning for which they are systematically trained.

The number of schools opting for XSEED is shown to be rising. XSEED markets a meticulously but simply explained teaching model which basically incorporates giving knowledge of learning target to students beforehand, real-life application of the concept, instant assessment, and feedback. The challenge of its practice would include training of teachers, time constraint regarding the completion of the prescribed syllabus—basically, the things that teachers struggle with—and equalizing learning for a diverse set of learners.

We cannot omit the digital solution that XSEED has devised to catalyze learning of math and science in the primary and middle classes. They call it MAX and it is advertised as a resourceful tool that requires minimal resources—notably, not even an internet connection for repeated use. It is hopefully thorough in design; at least the logistical apparatuses and accessories suggest that.

XSEED exceeding expectations is elaborated creatively in testimonials. For educational innovators, it is surely out there to compete with.

Chrysalis: It is a composite of domains that make it surpass what we typically call a curriculum solution. However, curriculum solution or facilitation is one of its defining features, and as we are currently focusing on the different approaches to curriculum enhancement, we will elaborate on that while tangentially explaining other aspects.

Chrysalis markets itself as an ‘educational movement’ rather than a pedagogical solution. It has a wider agenda which includes mobilization and reformation, not limiting itself to modification. Its intended outreach is towards all the stakeholders in education including the policymakers, parents, schools—private and government – teachers and children. It elaborates its role as a facilitator of development of human potential in a child and explains its broad latitude as a requisite to that end.

The model catches the eye with its ‘Thinkrooms’—the term that implies a transformed classroom. The Thinkrooms are modern learning spaces that depart from convention in several ways. Basically, they are spaces that facilitate cognitive faculties like critical thinking, problem-solving and self-understanding supposedly in a more conducive way, and in a higher degree when compared to the conventional classroom.

Chrysalis also targets the children in their formative years. Its curricular dimension is termed ‘academic program for human potential’. They acknowledge expressly the need to integrate educational theories and philosophies into the mainstream curriculum seamlessly. The educational philosophies they claim to have integrated into their curriculum solution or academic framework include the theory of multiple intelligences, constructivism, and metacognition— understanding of one’s own learning style.

Chrysalis’ academic program has an advantage over other curriculum solutions as it has already covered 1000 schools; they also have felicitations and awards to their credit in the field of curricular innovations. They have also collaborated with enterprises to research on what they term ‘authentic assessment’ and now it forms one of the critical components of their think room concept.

Big Picture learning: This one is the curricular practice that is adopted by ‘Big Picture learning Schools’. The school may be subscribed to any curriculum. However, this western, North American to be a specific, model is generally adopted in IB schools in India. One of the better-known schools which are Big Picture schools in India is the NEXT school franchise operated by R.Z Shah Trust in Mumbai.

Big Picture learning also builds upon the need for personalizing learning; the MO to achieve this goal is quite elaborate. It is fundamentally based on the idea of a pedagogical architecture that is student-centered. The class is divided into groups of 15, each of these groups called ‘advisories’ have an advisor in the form of a teacher. Every ‘advisee’ or student purportedly gains personalized attention from the teacher. Besides this the student has a mentor who helps him or her go through internships of sorts; parents are kept very close and updated about the learning and the inputs are made welcome.

This is a patently interactive and collaborative pedagogical technique, however, the issue may lie with the details and addressing individual differences is not entirely defined.

The IB schools subscribing to Big Picture learning can easily lay claim to pioneering a ‘pedagogical revolution’ or ‘reinventing education’ but there are facets of Big Picture learning that need to be synchronized with the curricular demands, the most daunting of which is an assessment.

The level of involvement that the model demands are almost ideal and it takes both thought and constant self-scrutiny to achieve the ideal.

There is indeed much value in cooperative learning projects and the student-centered approach that the Big Picture learning incorporates. It is a positive development that such approaches are being pioneered in India. With time they will hopefully come within the reach of the majority.

IMAX: Stylized as an ‘education company’ it stresses on the uniqueness of every child and makes this individualized pedagogical intervention its USP of sorts. Although, it is not the only curriculum solution that does that. It provides a set of processes and material that facilitates the client schools to base their curricular practice upon.

It constitutes a set of textbooks complemented with digital tools and ‘individualized worksheets’, pedagogical plans for teachers, examination papers for assessment and finally a feedback mechanism that is claimed to be very specific and detailed.

By all appearances, it seems to be one of the most comprehensive curriculum solutions. The model is reportedly a Harvard case study and records an impressive growth since its inception in 2013. The growth is reflected by the rise in the number of the schools that have subscribed to the curriculum solution and the aggregate number of students that are being taught and assessed with the aid of IMAX and XAMCHECK respectively.

Lead School:It is a digital application to be employed for the improvement of learning outcomes. It achieves this by turning lesson planning handy for teachers and lessons more comprehensible for students. It is also an ERP tool unto itself as it enables the administrators to keep a tab on the student’s progress and the professionalism and performance of the teachers.

Its affordability has been projected, and for good reason, to gain leverage. The concept of lead school started with a single school and with time found its takers. The movement snowballed creating a chain of schools and the vision of the enterprise became more elaborate and pedagogy-centered. The vision that led to the creation of lesson plans for different subjects and for different syllabuses is praiseworthy.

The relative simplicity of lead school might arguably be the biggest reason for its success. However, some are inclined to suspect something simple, especially in the arena of education, as simplistic. The creation of the lesson plans and efficient managerial practices can ensure inculcation of creativity while the practice of collaborative learning and generation of academic equity are complex processes and they must be appreciated like that. There is no denying that there are not many innovations in the educational sector that demonstrate dynamism like that of lead school but a bent towards educational philosophies and their incorporation will only add value to the curriculum solution.

Next Education: With ‘transforming education’ as its tagline, this curriculum solution provider has been felicitated for innovation in education and pedagogy at national and global forums. However, what is more, striking is the claim that it has already reached 10 percent of India’s private school students in one or the other form. Like some of the previous ones, this curriculum and educational solution provider goes beyond the curriculum and has other services in its catalog that includes school management system within ‘Platform Solutions’ besides ‘Self learning Solution’. Next Education has presented ‘Classroom Solutions’ separately, unlike the others, which include it in curriculum solution itself. There again, the theme of individualized learning is reiterated.

‘Academic partnership’ is the component where Next Education touches the domain of school setup and subsequent management of the school using in-house education technology. This distinguishes it from other curriculum solution providers as it puts Next in a different league as education ecosystem builder rather than a modifier. The name ‘Next Schools’ thereby follows. It is chiefly marketed as an end to end ‘K-12 education solution provider’.

Pearson India Education Services: Pearson education services fits the definition of a digitally intensive curriculum solution. The ‘Digital Learning Solutions’ designed by Pearson India is claimed to be instrumental in personalizing education and making it collaborative. Even rudimentary attention on the discourse makes instantly evident the fact that this is the common theme underlying almost all the curriculum solutions. The distinction lies in the details of the digital implements and their execution. The company also sources school management services that include, besides the digitalization of classroom instruction, assessment tools that purportedly make the results easy to decipher for teachers as well as parents and individualize learning further by providing teacher training and mentoring to turn teacher’s adept in collaborative and personalized teaching. The concept of smart school is also used to market this curriculum solution, the theme of the smart school, however, revolves around the user-friendly digital technology and data management technology besides training the teachers to ensure its effective use.

Pearson also has publication division for books that can be adopted by the schools that choose to partner with Pearson. What distinguishes it from other curriculum solutions is its global outreach and renown of the enterprise itself.

Educational innovations, curriculum solutions—a critique

It is noticeable that all of the curriculum solutions promise to be well-researched and empirically authenticated. They market themselves with the claim of being comprehensive solutions to all that retards the modern but conventional school education. They typically recommend their application from the early or formative years of schooling and lay claim to the development of an inquisitive, self-motivated and highly receptive children.

Fundamentally altering the perspective of teachers is another distinct promise all of these sets of curricular implements or institutes make. A remarkable change in the educational culture is what all of them express or imply. If the claims of the curriculum solution providers and educational innovators are taken at face value, then it has to be said that they are impacting the curriculum and the hidden curriculum thus transforming the educational ecosystem of the school.

All of these combine their efforts with liberal use of educational technology and re-orientating teachers for complete adoption of the classroom practices, but can they be rightfully called pedagogical innovations? Perhaps not. They are not the result of novel research or abstract philosophies brought to life like the theory of multiple intelligences or Montessori; they are Innovative applications of the postulates of progressive education and should be regarded as such. With the prominence of digitization in school education becoming increasingly apparent, they are welcome initiatives and are indeed a gift of enterprise in education.

Assessment is the other area where the intervention is marked. The mode of assessment, at least the classroom assessment of the work is where the intervention seems to be effective.

Some claim intellectual property rights to their digital innovations but there can be none who can claim any such right to their curricular practices and therefore they all remain customizable. The implication of this is that we are going to witness other innovations and curricular designs in the near future as the field is open to all.

While IB and Cambridge International will contest the claim that their curriculums need any such curriculum solution to render it more conducive for individual assimilation and their architecture does not leave space for such modifications, other boards including CBSE, ICSE and state boards do not have issues with advanced curricular practices insofar as they do not transgress upon aspects of schooling like school fee or extra-curricular activities, etc.

 

Vinod Kakumanu

Vinod Kakumanu

Founder & Consultant - School Serv

Vinod Kakumanu heads a team of school services professionals and is an independent commentator on Indian school education scenario. Vinod has assisted school promoters establish 35+ schools besides providing ancillary services to over 1000 schools across India. He envisions a future where quality education is made available to every child of the country. The focus he places on the quality of the deliverables and customer satisfaction has made him renowned in the field of K-12 school education.

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