Conseil supérieur de l'éducation
 
TOWARD A PROMISING RENEWAL OF PROGRAMS OF STUDY


Summary

 

This brief of the Conseil supérieur de l’éducation is an extension of the work of the Commission for the Estates General and the report of the Task Force on Curriculum Reform Reaffirming the Mission of Our Schools, as well as the educational policy statement Québec Schools on Course. These have given rise to new conditions for programs of study for elementary and secondary school. First and foremost, these initiatives are intended to ensure that Québec students benefit as much as possible from the curriculum reform process. The policy statement holds great promise if favourable conditions are created. The Council has prepared this brief with a view to contributing to the full potential of the desired reform.

The Council’s analyses and recommendations deal with three major issues: the basis of a new curriculum; difficulties with the modifications to the basic school regulations proposed in the policy statement Québec Schools on Course; and the conditions favourable to the implementation of the reform — a reform which is both demanding and stimulating for all concerned.

Basis of the New Curriculum

The Council paid special attention to the positions expressed on the mission of schools; it analyzed several studies that focused on the fields of learning as an overall reference for the curriculum; it looked at the links between the competencies, in particular, the links between cross-curricular competencies and the fields of learning; it explored the potential for interdisciplinarity and the integration of subjects, and paid particular attention to the relationship between these options for curriculum renewal and selected pedagogical practices.

 

An apparently restrictive mission

The mission of providing instruction, socializing and providing qualifications is officially defined for schools. At first glance, one can question the absence of the term "educating" and the little attention paid to personal development. This three-fold mission, however, must be clarified and understood in light of the educational policy statement Québec Schools on Course as a whole, which does make room for personal development. Moreover, the aim of social education, as it falls under the "socializing" part of the mission, is one of the more interesting new concerns in curriculum renewal.

The wording of the mission of schools lends itself to a double meaning. A more restrictive reading reinforces the conviction that schools must provide instruction. A more humanistic approach places emphasis on the overall development of students, who are considered at the heart of the education system. The Council recommends that the Minister of Education ensure that the mission of schools be interpreted in the more humanistic manner.

 

The major fields of learning as the foundation of the curriculum

The Conseil supérieur de l’éducation carefully analyzed the major fields of learning that Québec Schools on Course retains as the framework for all subject areas and individual courses. These fields essentially correspond to current subject areas; however, by taking this more contemporary path to curriculum development, the policy statement creates a bridge between the mission of a school in a given cultural environment and the programs of study. The Council has concluded in its research that establishing these fields of learning better serves the ongoing requirements for updating the curriculum and ensuring its pertinence.

This is why the Council examined various ways of adapting the curriculum to the culture of contemporary societies. The fields of learning make it possible to emphasize transcultural constants, in the sense that all cultures comprise institutional and social methods of functioning, methods of exchanging goods, techniques, ways of recognizing and appreciating beauty, languages, etc. The fields of learning thus provide an anchor point for elements of the curriculum.

The Council specifically wants to demonstrate the advantage of linking fields of learning which highlight the importance of the cultural wealth of the curriculum. This has been emphatically asserted since the work of the Commission for the Estates General. The Council emphasizes the importance of those fields of learning that are less directly related to the subject areas to understand, for example, that aesthetic beauty does not merely pertain to the arts. The Council believes that the present and future work on curriculum development requires additional effort to define and link together the fields of learning, as has been done in certain societies similar to ours. This would be a step forward that would make obvious to students the connections between their studies, their life and contemporary culture.

 

Cross-curricular competencies and curriculum coherence

The Council considers the focus that Québec Schools on Course has placed on cross-curricular or cross-disciplinary competencies very promising. It has analyzed these competencies in terms of three aspects. First, it looked at their affinity with interdisciplinary practices and the possibility of subject integration, especially in elementary education. Second, it examined the competencies in terms of their generic, and methodological or procedural skills, to which all subjects will eventually contribute. Lastly, it examined certain competencies related to cross-disciplinary themes. This last aspect covers the very specific issue of curriculum organization and serves to avoid the proliferation of specific courses for each theme. But the desired integration of these cross-disciplinary themes is an extremely important, concrete challenge requiring that deep-rooted habits be modifield in order to avoid isolation of the subject areas.

The Council points out that the approach of cross-curricular competencies is far from new. The approach completes, clarifies and systematizes what has evolved over at least the last two decades in school policy and pedagogical thinking. Implementation of this approach directs current developments in instructional materials and curriculum. The Council emphasizes the importance of not underestimating implementation difficulties at the risk of compromising the process as a whole.

The Council maintains that it is certainly not easy to develop official programs that are compatible with this type of pedagogical renewal, let alone favourable to it.

The fields of learning on which the Council has focused allow connections between subject areas and promote an interdisciplinary approach. Interdisciplinarity is essentially based on the connection between knowledge and skills and on the fact that skills of major importance are not specific to a given subject area. The Council therefore asks a fundamental question of the Ministère de l’Éducation: how can official programs of study be developed so that they allow the curriculum to evolve in the classroom and in the school?

Problems concerning the Basic School Regulations

 

Local accountability

The implementation of a curriculum based on fields of learning and on competencies specific to subject areas, that is, cross-curricular competencies has, in some countries, resulted in the emergence of an official curriculum that places less emphasis on the initial aims and more on the outcomes, for example, at the end of a given cycle. This evolution greatly serves to restore the credibility of the responsibility of each school with respect to the curriculum. The Council maintains that the Ministère de l’Éducation could and should expand the orientations of Québec Schools on Course in this direction. A curriculum that is well designed in terms of minimum performance standards in effect leaves considerable leeway regarding the use of time and the means employed to ensure that these standards are met. In order to promote a good relationship between local vitality and ministerial authority in matters of curriculum, the Council also cautions against the consequences of a major rift between the pedagogical convictions of teachers and the curriculum renewal undertaken by the Ministère.

 

Some dilemmas regarding curriculum organization

The Council points out that some aspects of the future changes to the basic school regulations appear highly problematic. With respect to elementary education, the Council remains strongly in favour of 25 hours each week in the classroom for students, instead of the current 23.5 hours. It also expresses a strong reticence regarding the withdrawal of natural science and history and geography in the first cycle of elementary education. With regard to the subject-time allocation for the first cycle of secondary education, the Council recommends that the following two proposals be re-examined: the merging of technology and science by reducing the number of credits currently assigned to these subjects; and the automatic and across the board increase in the number of credits for French, language of instruction.

The Council is convinced that in order to develop the potential for curriculum renewal, the type of influence that the official curriculum has on the local organization of studies must evolve away from the subject-time allocations of the past 15 years.

Conditions favourable to curriculum renewal

In the last chapter of the brief, the Council focuses on the difficulty of breaking free from the model, inherited from the 1980s, of a bureaucratic implementation of rapidly revised programs. Research has shown this model of implementing curriculum development to be inadequate. The Council reiterates the elements related to methods, strategies and resource needs that would provide every chance of success to an adequate curriculum development process. In effect, Québec Schools on Course contains some very promising elements that have not been sufficiently emphasized. To take full advantage of them, the Council reminds us that each group of players has an essential role and in particular, it emphasizes the necessary contribution of teachers in this process of curriculum renewal.

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