Unit 1: Definition, Meaning and Approaches to Curriculum Development


1.1.  Curriculum definition, meaning and concept

1.2.  Principles of curriculum development

1.3.  Types of curricula developmental, functional, ecological and eclectic

1.4.  Approaches to curriculum transaction child centered, activity centered, holistic

1.5.  Points to consider for developing curriculum for students with diverse learning needs.











1.1         Curriculum definition, meaning and concept


Curriculum is the heart and soul of any educational process. It is the sum total of all that is rendered by an educational institution in bringing out the required changes in the child. The activities range from classroom to playground, and beyond. As you may have experienced, every society tries to socialize her child through the process of adjustment with the environment in which s/he lives. The curriculum is an instrument to fulfil such an objective. We shall discuss more in this unit about the meaning of curriculum, need and bases of curriculum, curriculum process, and the different types of curriculum.

Definitions of Curriculum
Curriculum has been defined in many ways by educationists. Some definitions are very specific and others are very wider in their meaning. Some of the important definitions are given below. You should read these definitions carefully and try to comprehend the underlying meaning of curriculum in each of the definitions.

1.     "A Curriculum is a structured series of intended learning outcomes" (Johnson, 1967).

2.     "Curriculum includes the totality of experiences that a pupil receives through the manifold activities that go on in the school - in the classroom, library, laboratory, workshop, playgrounds and in the numerous informal contacts between teachers and pupils. In this case the whole life of the school becomes the curriculum which can tough the life of the students of all points and help in the evolution of balanced personality" (Secondary Education Commission, 1952-53).

3.     "Curriculum is the sum total of student objectives which the school sponsors for the purpose of achieving its objectives" Alberty and Alberty, 1959).

4.     "A Curriculum is the formulation and implementation of an educational proposal, to be taught and learnt within schools or other institutions and for which that institution accepts responsibility at three levels: its rationale, its actual implementation and its effects" (Jenkin and Shipman, 1975).

5.     "Curriculum can refer to the total structure of ideas and activities, developed by an educational institution to meet the needs of students and to achieve desired educational aims" (Derek Rowntree in A Dictionary of Education, 1981).

6.     "A curriculum is all of the experiences that individual learners have in programme of education whose purpose is to achieve broad goals and related specific objectives, which is planned in terms of framework of theory and research or past and present Professional Practice" (Glen Hass, 1987).

The term ‘curriculum’ has been derived from a Latin word ‘currere’ which means a ‘race course’ or a runway on which one runs to reach a goal. Accordingly, a curriculum is the instructional and the educative programme by following which the pupils achieved their goals, ideals and aspirations of life.


It is curriculum through which the general aims of a school education receive concrete expression.


Traditional Concept of Curriculum

 In the past, the second name of curriculum was ‘course of studies’. This term was considered to be a program related to various subjects only. However, the term ‘curriculum’ and ‘course of studies’ were, sometimes interchangeable but used in a very limited sense. As a matter of fact, this viewpoint was a static-view which emphasised only the textbook knowledge or factual information. In those it was correct because the main objective of education was to help the learner to memorize the contents.

Furthermore, curriculum was a body of preserved factual knowledge to be transmitted from the teacher to the pupils and mastered by them through memorization, recitation and drills; and to be reproduced on the demand of the teacher.

The traditional curriculum was subject centred while the modern curriculum is child and life-centred or student centred.


Modern Concept of Curriculum

 With the passes of time and reinforcement of mind the traditional concept of curriculum (which was limited in scope) was replaced by a dynamic and modern concept. Hence, it is now considered to be a broad cumulative and comprehensive term including all the curricular and co-curricular activities. It is the totality of all the learning activities to which we are exposed during study, i.e. classroom experiences, laboratory, library, playgrounds, school building, study tours associations withy parents and community. Now, it is more than the textbooks and more than the subject matter selected for a particular class.

Modern education is the combination of two dynamic processes. The one is the process of individual development and the other is the process of socialisation, which is economically known as adjustment with the social environment.

In short, curriculum is a series of potential experiences, set-up in educational institutions for the reason of disciplining the learners in desirable ways of thinking of the concerned society. It is a path by following which we can reach a specified destination. Furthermore, it is considered to be a series of learning opportunities which are planned and carried out by a teacher and pupils working together.


Characteristics of Curriculum


a. The curriculum is continuously evolving:- It evolved from one period to another, to the present. For a curriculum, to be effective, it must have continuous monitoring and evaluation. Curriculum must adapt its educational activities and services to meet the needs of a modern and dynamic community.

b. It is is based on the needs of the pupils:- A good curriculum reflects the needs of the individual and the society as a whole. The curriculum is in proper shape in order to meet the challenges of time and make education more responsive to the clientele it serves.

c. It is democratically conceived:- A good curriculum is developed through the efforts of a group of individuals from different sectors in the society who are knowledgeable about the interests, needs and resources of the learner and the society as a whole. The curriculum is the product of many minds and energies.

d.The curriculum is the result of a long term effort:- It is a product of long and tedious process. It takes a long period of time in the planning,  management,evaluation and development of a good curriculum.

e. It is a complex of details:- A good curriculum provides the proper instructional equipment and meeting places that are often most conducive to learning. It includes the student-teacher relationship, guidance and counselling program, health services, school and community projects, library and laboratories, and other school related work experiences.

f. It provides for the logical sequence of subject matter:- Learning is developmental. Classes and activities should be planned. A good curriculum provides continuity of experience.

g. The curriculum complements and cooperates with other programs of the community:- It is responsive to the needs of the community. The school offers its assistance in the improvement and realisation of ongoing programs of the community. There is cooperative effort between the school and the community towards greater productivity.

h. It has educational quality:- Quality education comes through the situation of the individual’s intellectual and creative capacities for social welfare and development. The curriculum helps the learner to become the best that he can possibly be. Its support system is secured to augment existing sources for its efficient and effective implementation.

i. It has administrative flexibility:- A good curriculum must be ready to incorporate changes whenever necessary. The curriculum is open to revision and development to meet the demands of globalization and the digital age.

Importance of curriculum development in education

1.      Organized path to acquire knowledge: The main purpose of the curriculum is to provide an achievable learning framework that helps students to acquire knowledge. To make the wide spectrum of knowledge acquirable and understandable for learners, educational institutions have divided it into subjects and organized them in an engaging learning model.

2.      Determining the structure of content: All subject matter needs to be represented in an acquirable form to the learners according to their learning capability. The development of a curriculum helps in determining the structure of the subject matter for a particular level of teaching.

3.      Defining instructional methods: Curriculum development helps to determine a student-centric instructional method that makes the subject interesting to the learners.

4.     Development of knowledge, skill, and attitude: A curriculum provides the framework for developing knowledge and skills along with enhancing creative ability.




1.2         Principles of curriculum development

A good curriculum should aim at bringing out the maximum possible potentials of a child – may him be retarded or non-retarded. It has to take into consideration certain basic principles to arrive at a curriculum with achievable, practical goals.

Basic considerations and steps in curriculum development
A good curriculum influences the thoughts, feelings, ideas and opinions of the learner in the given context. A good curriculum developed on sound learning theory principles will consider the environmental influences on the teaching learning situations. This includes,

1.     Government policies: Disabilities is an area of responsibility for more than one Government department. Health, Education, Welfare and Labour departments have their specific role to play in disability rehabilitation. In education, in India for instance, special education is the responsibility of Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment whereas integrated education is under Department of Education, Ministry of Human Resource Development. The curricular decisions are influenced by the respective departments. It comes under as it is governed by the rules and regulations of the respective department. The National Policy on Education (1986) has specific mention on special education which has brought about changes in special education and integrated education. Similarly the Persons with Disabilities Act (1995) has certain mandates for education of the disabled persons, which is yet to be implemented. This is likely to have effect on teacher preparation, curriculum and instructions and other related areas.

2.     The school administrative policies: Many schools have their own policies and philosophy though they follow a prescribed syllabus of CBSE, ICSE, State Board and so on. The curriculum for special education should take into account the schools policies. For instance, admission decisions on age restriction or type or severity level of disability will influence the content of special education curriculum.

3.     Support systems available: Many children with disabilities require therapeutic, medical or counseling support. Not all schools are equipped with these facilities. Depending on the availability or non-availability of such facilities, the curriculum needs to include/make referral arrangements to ensure a wholistic curricular provision for the students who require these facilities.

4.     Family support: Every special education programme needs an extension of school training at home for successful transfer of training. A good curriculum should include activities for home training, which the teacher transfers to the caretaker for training at home. Suitable alternative should be sought for residential schools.

5.     Community resources: Normalization through integration and inclusion is the ultimate aim of special education, which cannot be accomplished without community participation. While developing the curriculum, the educational milieu should include the available community resources specific to each community for successful community participation and thus the spontaneous integration.

6.     Available teacher competencies: While regular school teachers are sensitized to special education in recent years, certain areas in disabilities require specific teacher competencies which a trained teacher can offer. The curriculum should focus on objective judgement of the competencies of the teacher and alternatives for filling gaps.

7.     Student profile: The disabilities vary in their nature and therefore, children with different disabilities require different content and process for transaction, yet maintaining the general curricular demands to the extent possible. Education of children with hearing impairment, visually impairment or locomotor disabilities have the prescribed school curriculum with certain modifications – deletion of certain content (such as second language for hearing impaired children) and addition of disability specific educational requirement called the `plus curriculum’ (such as Braille skills for visually impaired children). Functional curriculum is developed for children with mental retardation, which is, totally function oriented leading to personal adequacy, social competency and vocational preparation.

8.     Financial availability: While the basic requirements are to be met, the extent of success in any curriculum development depends on how practical and feasible it is. The financial implications play a major role in the decision making of `how much’ and `how far’ regarding content and process decision.
Whether one follows the child centered or activity centered or wholistic approach, the above considerations are of utmost importance. The above eight factors are inter-related among themselves and they interact with the teaching learning situation between the teacher and the learner. Thus if anyone of them has a change, it will affect the total, learning environment and its other components.



1.3         Types of curricula developmental, functional, ecological and eclectic


Developmental Curriculum

A curriculum designed for learners with severe cognitive impairments reflecting their developmental stage. It should be age and developmentally appropriate, rather than merely being a curriculum designed for younger learners. Such a curriculum, while taking specific challenges into account, should nevertheless contribute to fully developing the learner’s potential.

Developmental Curriculum is an engaging, play based curriculum that involves children in exciting and authentic learning experiences that reflect the particular needs, interests and strengths of the individual child. It places teaching strategies around the developmental stage of children to ensure that they are engaged in ways that respect and suit their stage of development It aims to increase rich oral language for all children and integrates literacy and numeracy into all learning experiences.

The expression of a developmental curriculum requires certain generalizations to be made with respect to the advancement of students’ learning and professional skills across the curriculum. It is understood that not all students possess the same levels of skill entering or exiting the medical program; likewise, not all students demonstrate a linear developmental progression as they move through the curriculum. Nevertheless, it can be said that the most successful students do demonstrate increasing levels of sophistication with respect to their skills and the application of those skills to content challenges.

The purpose for operationalizing the developmental curriculum is two-fold: first is to make sure the expression of the curriculum does not inhibit the development of students’ higher-level cognitive skills and behaviors; the second is to identify those characteristics desired of an “ideal” graduate and to create a longitudinal strategy for the educational program that fosters students’ development and builds upon those characteristics.

 With those goals in mind, the planning task is to articulate desired levels of developmental sophistication and to identify the general points in the academic program where those levels can be reached. Students benefit the most when their progression is constantly challenged. Gains are easily lost if acquired sophistication is not subsequently supported and reinforced by the program as students advance. For this reason, it is essential to consider ways to challenge students in order to promote development, as well as to identify the types of support students will need as they work to attain new levels of sophistication. The developmental curriculum is also expressed in psychosocial, ethical and professional development domains. Expectations for student maturation in these domains are to be reflected in learning objectives, types of interpersonal encounters and practical skills for the practicum-based curriculum.


Functional Curriculum

A functional curriculum is a curriculum that focuses upon independent living skills and vocational skills, emphasizing communication and social skills. Students at the secondary level who are prime candidates for such a curriculum are identified. A procedure for assessing students for placement in the curriculum is described as well as methods for the teaching of social skills and the placement of students in community based jobs. Although many parts of the curriculum can be taught in a classroom setting, the need for generalizing those taught skills in the community is essential. Results with a population of students with severe emotional disturbances are described.

Learning functional academic skills for children with Mental Retardation is necessary in order to become independent and successfully seek employment. Declaration of UNESCO towards “Education for All” in 2000 AD, includes children with disabilities, this also addresses learning needs of students with Mental Retardation. Literacy skills of individuals with Mental Retardation are not the same as children with other special needs due to the limited intellectual capacity. However, individuals with Mental Retardation can use literacy and numeracy skills to some extent which are application-oriented if they are given right kind of training.

The Functional Curriculum focuses on various areas, including community skills, consumer skills, and domestic and self-help skills. Possessing consumer skills, such as the ability to shop, implies being able to make payment with cash, pay through debit cards, and locate a commodity and pay for it. Other money-associated skills being taught include making orders and making payments in restaurants by the use of a vending machine. Community skills include such basic skills as street crossing, while office skills and vocational skills are also areas to be taught. Additionally, in the domestic and self-help category, students are trained to take care of themselves in their home, hence being able to live independently. Such capabilities include laundry skills, preparing food, hygiene, putting away groceries, and dressing.

Ecological Curriculum

The planning team using the ecological approach to curriculum development devises an individual curriculum which addresses the skills, activities, and environments most relevant to the student. The curriculum content is ever changing as the needs of the student change.

It promotes teaching skills that are age-appropriate and relevant to the student's daily life, while it respects the need to teach skills in order of progressive refinement and complexity. It encourages the use of adaptations that accommodate the disability or simplify task demands.

The ecological approach also tends to unify team member efforts because the environments and activities that are identified as priorities for each student provide a natural context for integrating related services.


With reference to learning, the ecology metaphor is inspired by the study of the relationships of organisms with one another and their environment. It builds on the dialectic premises that underlie sociocultural, situative and sociomaterial approaches, but emphasizes a core premise that is strongly at variance with ideas that still dominate mainstream perspectives on learning: namely, that learning is not a confined, internal process but instead involves mutually constitutive relationships between individuals and their (social, intellectual and digital material) environments, where both person and environment are transformed. According to a sociocultural line of reasoning, the individual actively relates to environments of various natures (social, economic, cultural, personal, institutional) and those relationships then become internalized to form part of how a person knows and develops. But the individual also initiates externalization, production of knowledge or production of materials and, through this process, acts upon and changes the world. This understanding indicates both the way that knowledge, relationships and materials are organized, but also how they can be drawn upon by learners who are engaged in their own process of sense‐making and learning. Furthermore, learners may approach a variety of distributed resources and relate to different actions and environments (eg, professional, social, cultural, digital). The way we view it, an ecology of resources contains the wider pools of resources and infrastructures that learners can draw upon to construct their own learning spaces.


Eclectic Curriculum Development

 Eclecticism has been derived from the verb root “elect”. To elect means to choose and pick up. The good ideas, concept and principles from various schools of thought have been chosen, picked up and blended together to make a complete philosophy. Thus eclecticism is a philosophy of choice. Eclecticism is nothing but fusion of knowledge from all sources. It is a peculiar type of educational philosophy which combines all good ideas and principles from various philosophies. Eclecticism is a conceptual approach that does not hold rigidly to a single paradigm or set of assumptions, but instead draws upon multiple theories, styles, or ideas to gain complementary insights into a subject, or applies different theories in particular cases. It can sometimes seem inelegant or lacking in simplicity, and eclectics are sometimes criticized for lack of consistency in their thinking. It is, however, common in many fields of study.

In the move away from teachers following one specific methodology, the eclectic approach is the label given to a teacher's use of techniques and activities from a range of language teaching approaches and methodologies. The teacher decides what methodology or approach to use depending on the aims of the lesson and the learners in the group. Almost all modern course books have a mixture of approaches and methodologies.

Example: The class starts with an inductive activity with learners identifying the different uses of synonyms of movement using a reading text. In another class the input is recycled through a task-based lesson, with learners producing the instructions for an exercise manual.

A person with an eclectic taste in music likes music of many different types, selected from a wide variety of musical genres. An eclectic approach would be one using a variety of methods of approaching/ tackling/ addressing/ dealing with a subject /problem /challenge/ task.


Advantages of eclectic approach

·             It is the nature of man that he likes change. He wants new and novel ways in every field of work. The same is the case with learning process. Learners always like something new and exciting. This approach is broad and may include every kind of learning activity and saves learner from monotony.

·             It is more appropriate for Pre School learning but not less beneficial in the class rooms.

·             It is helpful in all kinds of skills in stimulating a creative environment and gives confidence to the learners. In this approach children discovers and instill good ways of learning.

·             Above all this approach gives a chance to our common sense to mould and shape our method according to the circumstances and available materials of teaching aids.

·             These days, parents of first-time preschoolers are faced with the dilemma: where to enroll their kids. With all the existing teaching methods offered in schools, we can imagine how difficult choosing the right one is.

·             The Eclectic Method is explained here by Nelle S. Ricardo, school directress of The Children’s House International School (CHINS) in Marikina City and a specialist in Early Childhood Education & Special Education



1.4         Approaches to curriculum transaction- child centered, activity centered, holistic  


Approach to curriculum is a design for deciding the various aspects of curriculum development and transaction. It is a planned or pattern of organization that the teachers follow in providing learning experiences to the learners.

Activity-Centred Curriculum
Some experts view curriculum "as various forms of activity that are grand expression of the human spirit and that are of the greatest and most permanent significance to the wide world". According activity-centred curriculum students, should learn by engaging themselves in various activities which is desirable and purposeful. It stresses the practical aspects of life. Emphasis is given on "learning by doing" and "learning by relating to life". Laboratory work and field work are given more importance. Activity-centred curriculum may consist of activities such as making a dress, constructing a box, building a miniature house, etc. The activities become the focus (rather than the fixed content), which are intended to achieve the pre-stipulated objectives.

Learner Centred Curriculum
In learner-centred curriculum, the learner occupies the central position in the teaching-learning exercise. Stress is given on the all-round development of the learner. Provision is made for the varying abilities and interests of learners. They have choices and options to fulfil their needs and interests. The learner-centred curriculum is based on the psychological foundations of education. Subject-matter and objectives are identified with the cooperation of or in collaboration with thelearner. Importance is given to the 'process' of acquiring knowledge or facts, rather than simple acquisition of knowledge. Attempt is made to orient selection of content and teaching-learning towards every individual child, based on his/her abilities, interest, aptitude and learning styles.

Integrated Curriculum
Integrated curriculum involves judicious mix of subject-centred, learner-centred and activity-centred curriculum. It enables the students to get a comprehensive view of the concepts to be learnt. For example, a course like "History of Civilization" may be an integrated curriculum representing history, literature, art, music, and sociology.
The traditional curriculum is too much formal, fragmented and isolated. As a result it fails to give a comprehensive view of life. It does not lead to unity of knowledge. Introduction of integrated curriculum overcomes such barriers.

Holistic Curriculum
The Holistic approach integrates all developmental areas in an environment that is carefully designed to encourage discovery and exploration. Classroom materials allow children to interact with the world familiar to them. A unifying project focus (theme) that is interesting to the children connects learning experiences across all developmental areas to form a developmental web. This integration of developmental areas results in children reaching higher levels of thinking. This approach carefully balances the opportunity for children to initiate play and learning activities and the responsibility of the teacher to optimize children's development by challenging and supporting their learning.

A more authentic curriculum emerges when all developmental areas are creatively integrated in a natural way rather than artificially inserting developmental activities for the sake of including each area. Project themes that are broad are the best guarantee for the holistic approach. Not every focus lends itself to all development areas, while others are well suited for certain development areas. For instance a focus built around the supermarket offers a natural springboard for mathematical activities. A focus built around the clothing we wear easily lends itself to activities involving language concepts. Language has a double function as both a learning tool and as a learning goal. Therefore, language activities must have an extra place in all project focuses based around a network of concepts

1.5         Points to consider for developing curriculum for students with diverse learning needs.


Humans have a tendency to fall into patterns of behavior. For teachers, that means that if we’re not careful, we begin to teach things the same way every year. This is comfortable for us, but it can result in a rigid curriculum that may not work for all students—and traditional classrooms are curriculum-centered already, not easily adapted to the differing needs of individual students. Instead, students are required to adapt to the curriculum.

Whether you ascribe to the notion of individual learning styles or not, one way to accommodate the diversity in your classroom is to vary your teaching style, the way you present information, and the ways you let students express their learning.  Not only are you more likely to let your students find learning activities at which they excel, but you may also open their eyes to different ways of thinking.  

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) at its most basic advocates for removing barriers to learning and adding flexibility to your class.

Universal Design originally came out of architecture where it was originally concerned with removing barriers to physical access.  It quickly became obvious that when architects expanded access to those with physical disabilities, many more people benefited.  The typical example is curb cuts.  Originally designed for people in wheelchairs, curb cuts also make life easier for anything on wheels (bicyclists, baby strollers, grocery carts) and anyone with mobility issues.  

In education, think of the audio recording you provide to a student with a visual impairment or a reading disability.  The recording also benefits any student who simply prefers listening to information as well as the time strapped student who lives an hour away and can now listen to the recording in her car, during her commute.  

Implementing UDL

At its most basic, UDL emphasizes offering choices in 3 key areas of teaching:
Representation - how you deliver course content
Engagement - how students participate
Expression - how students demonstrate what they have learned

Inclusive curriculum design requires a global and inclusive perspective, sensitivity to cultural differences, and an appreciation of the numerous ways in which culture influences learning. Instructional designers need to consider the ethical and pedagogical underpinning of goals, objectives, content, and instructional activities, and incorporate not one, but multiple pedagogies according to learner needs (McLoughlin & Oliver, 2000). It is also imperative that the design be authenticated by a member of the group or groups to whom the learning materials are addressed. McLoughlin and Oliver (1999) also noted that learning materials should be tested with the target groups during the development phase to ensure authenticity.

Instructors should create flexible tasks and tools for knowledge sharing. One of the basic principles of instructional design is that learners should be able to share what they have constructed with others (McLoughlin & Oliver, 2000). This reinforces the social and collaborative focus of learning and creates an online community. Collaborative task design that enables groups to combine expertise and assign roles encourages learner control. Knowledge sharing can be fostered by utilizing online tools that students can use to discuss assignments and offer peer support like Facebook, Twitter or Google Drive. It is also important that flexible and responsive student roles and responsibilities are established. From the onset, awareness of learners needs must inform the design process. For most students, introduction into an online community is often a new experience and therefore technology related skills have to be learnt. Communication tools and social interaction should be provided for learners to co-construct knowledge. Learners should be able to access multiple channels of communication with instructors and with other learners.

Learners should also have access to varied resources to ensure multiple perspectives. This can be achieved by moving away from instructivist approaches where all information is prescribed by the teacher to constructive and connectivist approaches where learners actively add to learning resources, suggest additional materials of interest, and discuss alternatives. By providing flexibility in learning goals, outcomes, and modes of assessment, learners take ownership of their learning goals, the topics they choose to research, and the pace and order in which they access the resources. By offering choice learners can develop self-knowledge of their own learning needs and performance.

It is essential that instructors be attentive in studying how deficit assumptions may be influencing perceptions of certain students. As Bartolome (1994) explained, teaching methods are neither created nor implemented in a vacuum. Design, selection, and use of particular teaching strategies arise from perceptions about learning and learners. In this respect even the most pedagogically advanced methods are likely to be ineffective in the hands of those who implicitly or explicitly subscribe to a belief system that regards some students, as disadvantaged and in need of fixing, or, worse, as deficient and, therefore, beyond fixing (Ainscow, 2005). Inclusion is a process. That is to say, inclusion has to be seen as a continuous search to find better ways of responding to diversity. It is about learning how to live with difference and learning how to learn from difference. In this way differences come to be seen more positively as an impetus for fostering learning, among learners and educators.


Students who are engaged in learning do not exist as a homogenous group. They come into the learning environment with experiences reflective of their social location and culture. Culture pervades learning, and in designing instructional environments, consideration should be allowed for issues concerning the social and cultural dimensions of task design, communication channels, and structuring of information if the needs of culturally diverse learners are to be met.  To meet the needs of learners, the student should be treated as a whole. This means that learning tasks go beyond knowledge and skills to include other aspects of being a person in society as well as an approach that recognizes that the complex biological, sociological, and psychological individuals that are students are acknowledged. Inclusive design presumes that the aim of inclusive education is to eliminate social exclusion which is a consequence of attitudes and responses to diversity in race, social class, ethnicity, religion, gender, and ability (Vitello & Mithaug, 1998). As such, it starts from the belief that education is a basic human right and the foundation for a more just society (Ainscow, 2005).