The New National Minimum Curriculum Seminar The Department of Foundations in Education together with four members from the Department of Psychology involved in education and teacher education met for a one day seminar at the Coastline Hotel on Friday 21st January 2000 to discuss the new National Minimum Curriculum which was published a few days ago. The agenda dealt with the content of the document and how the department can contribute to the process of curriculum development in Malta. Dr. Ronald Sultana, Head of Department, introduced the theme, the agenda for the seminar and the main speakers, Professor Kenneth Wain and Dr Carmel Borg.
Dr Borg described and explained the whole process leading to the present document. He highlighted the welcome change from the non-participative and anonymous method used in the drawing up, in the early 1990ís, of the National Minimum Curriculum to the widespread consultation, national debate and democratic attitude and process underpinning the present document. This process was fully endorsed by successive governments since 1996. The seminar participants pointed out that the participation of students from all levels could have been greater. There was agreement on the fact that this curriculum provides both a vision and a direction for all involved in education to work with. The process gave rise to a wide sense of ownership not necessarily tied to individuals or specific groups. It was also an excellent exercise in team-work and collaboration by persons from diverse walks of life and world-views.
Professor Wain highlighted the challenges facing the Faculty of Education in the process of implementation of the provisions of the National Minimum Curriculum. Some of these are of a political nature. The authorities need to decide who is going to be responsible for the implementation of the curriculum and who will monitor progress. Since ownership is so widespread the governance and monitoring of the curriculum should reflect this. It would be appropriate if a broadly representative autonomous body were to be in charge at the national level with the curriculum department in the Education Division responsible for state schools. The document is promoting decentralisation, school autonomy and the democratising of school management. All this needs to be spelt out. It will be difficult for the recommendations of the curriculum to see the light of day unless schooling and teaching cultures are changed. School administrators and teachers need to rethink education in terms of the curriculum recommendations. How and to what extent will parents and school councils be involved in school and educational management? There is still the need to work out the way schools are going to open up to the community and how the gap between schools and the world of work is going to be bridged.
The curriculum raises a number of professional concerns. What impact will it have on teachers? Professional autonomy needs to be redimensioned in the light of the new curriculum. There may be new and wider professional demands on teachers. Are these being catered for in the university courses leading to a B.Ed degree and the Postgraduate Certificate in Education? For example: are student teachers being given the skills to participate in democratically run schools? Are they trained to manage change? We need to put in place in-service training policies, strategies and development. The authorities need to establish what teaching support services are necessitated by the new curriculum.
Curriculum policy issues need to be addressed soon. The general curriculum objectives must be translated into policies. Vertical integration from kindergarten to SEC (16 year olds) has to be worked out into a continuum, a natural progression. This way of thinking out education may extend beyond Form 5. Does this mean that we need to reorganise our schooling system structurally? The SEC presently determines to a large extent the teaching styles applied in our schools. For the new curriculum to come to fruition SEC needs to be reformed to reflect the new proposals on assessment. How will the new provisions for assessment and record keeping influence the final outcome at the end of Form 5 (SEC)? If this means greater involvement by school teachers a much greater degree of trust needs to be built between the Matsec Department and the schools. This may be facilitated by proper in-set training which should also deal with methods of formative assessment. Thematic teaching and mixed ability teaching need to be enhanced. A serious stumbling block is the confused thinking about what mixed ability teaching means.
There are a number of more specific issues which need attention. If we are to introduce 'co-ordinated science' to replace the present system, have the implications been worked out? How far up the system must the reform go? How are we going to develop primary science? Other problematic areas may include Design and Technology, P.S.E., creativity and self expression. We need someone to develop interdisciplinarity and train teachers how to apply it. Environmental Studies requires reforming. We still do not have a clear language policy and we might need to replace textbooks by texts that reflect the new curriculum. The biggest challenge of all is the changing of our present cultures in teaching, parents, industry and commerce.
A number of proposals were put foreword by the participants on how best to proceed. These included consulting international research, facilitating change in classrooms, updating teacher education, organising in-service teacher education at school, create joint projects with schools, action research in schools where some provisions of the curriculum are already in place, local research to assess the developing situation, establish an M.Ed. in curriculum studies, produce new relevant texts.
This seminar is only the first of a series designed to keep the Department of Foundations in Education not only focused on the Maltese educational scene but also a contributing partner.