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Rigorous Curriculum is the Recipe for Quality Education

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Are you a parent? If you do not have kids on your own, and you are in Liberia, Sierra Leone, or on the continent of Africa or living in a family-oriented society, then somehow, and in some ways, you are involved in raising up a child. Subsequently, you are a parent, caregiver and or a guardian.

Like many of you, I am proud to say that I am a parent, and like most parents and caregivers, my child is in school. We all have kids in schools, but how many of us know what they are learning? And in Liberia, Sierra Leone and post war societies are we incorporating Peace Education in our curriculum? Are we also recommending traditional folktales that teach character education as well as our histories in our curriculum?

How do you think schools operate? Do you assume that children walk to school, and then the teacher decides what to teach on that day? If you ever thought so, well perhaps you should think again, because teaching/education is a concept, and like a project, every successful concept and project in life requires a good framework and planning. Whenever we begin any new program or procedure, we need to make sure that we have all the plans drawn up. In planning, we look at the offer, the resources, and the steps we need to take and the goals we must achieve.  The same approach is used in the education sector, thus resulting to the development of a core set of curriculum.

The Webster dictionary defines Curriculum as “courses offered by an educational institution.” Then scholars in the field of education provide an array of definitions, all of which includes specific variables that cut across the range of definitions.  For example, Tanner (1980) defined curriculum as “the planned and guided learning experiences and intended outcomes, formulated through the systematic  reconstruction of knowledge and experiences under the auspices of the school, for the learners’ continuous and willful growth in personal social competence” (p.13).  For Schubert (1987), this scholar defines curriculum as the contents of a subject, concepts and tasks to be acquired, planned activities, the desired learning outcomes and experiences, product of culture and an agenda to reform society.” If we take a look at both Tanner and Schubert definitions, we recognized that Curriculums are planned! We also learn that Curriculums are written document that methodically describes goals planned, objectives, content, learning activities, evaluation procedures among other strategies that promote and measures students’ success.

Given the various definitions, which include planning and set of processes and desired outcomes, it goes to say that all good schools have curriculums that challenge students’ success. Few schools design their own curriculums; others embrace and implement curriculums from other schools or societies. Take for example the U.S.A ABeka curriculum. It is used by many schools.  Abeka provides Christian schools and private schools with outstanding curriculum and textbooks built on a foundation of academic excellence and Christian character. The Abeka curriculum is also used by a few private schools in Liberia, including Edu-Care Academy of Learning.   The Catholic Schools curriculum is built around the Catholic Doctrine, as well as subjects/courses aimed at developing the whole child.

Curriculums are planned and built based on the core concepts expected to be acquired by the Education sectors of various countries, states, and communities.  In elementary schools, the curriculum is principally drawn by the educational boards or some central body. Most good curriculums are designed based on the needs of the children and all other feasibilities before selecting courses. Unlike colleges, in elementary schools, students do not have a say in their subjects and study based on a universal curriculum, which works on all sections of the students’ mind and helps in the overall development of the student. An elementary curriculum helps in the proper development – touching all areas that prompt interests, curiosity, creativity, critical thinking and problem solving skills-while the child comes to terms with his or her own preference. That is why it is important that at primary school levels, the curriculum should aim at providing a structured platform, which gives every child an equal opportunity to realize their potential and excel. So you will notice that in great elementary schools, a healthy environment is provided and play is encouraged. In additional to play, academics learning, the arts, and just about everything that will stimulate every aspect of the child’s physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual growth are encouraged.  Growths in all of these areas are critical and that is why most advanced societies tell parents:  “The First Years are the Best.”

At high school levels, students should have developed and acquired all of the skills they needed to gain during the primary and elementary levels. For example, a student in fifth grade should have learned in 2nd and 3rd grade the use of correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar (e.g., verb tenses must agree in sentences); appropriate use of reference books, such as the thesaurus, to make more interesting word choices. A student in third grade should begin writing in paragraph form, using transitions. Only after learning those skills will a fifth grade student be able to produce written or oral book reports, demonstrating knowledge of plot and character development, or  explain the differences between genres — biographies, poetry, mysteries, plays, historical fiction — and fluently read books in each category comprehensively. A student in fifth grade who successfully acquired the skills in the lower classes is capable of writing a research paper of greater length and scope (more than four pages). For example, he/she would capably narrow the topic, locate information from multiple sources, take notes, collect and cite sources, create an outline, etc.

In essence, a rigorous educational program tied to high standards builds student knowledge and strengthens critical thinking skills, while carrying out reasonable assessments that monitor progress and measure what students know and can do. Without an effective curriculum, a student would not be able to understand or meet the challenges of the society.

While curriculum are drafted as roadmap for the effective education and development of children, parental involvement in the education and development of children is critical to students’ achievement and success. Great curriculum can be developed, but if they are not supported and fully implemented in our schools, then we are bound to have a very nice educational recipe glittering on our shelves.

Like me, if your child is in 3rd grade, a broader curriculum for reading, writing and verbal communications should include: exploring fables, legends, myths, poems, and plays as supplements to fiction and nonfiction reading; using reference books, such as the thesaurus, to make more interesting word choices; writing in paragraph form, using transitions, using; Using correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar (e.g., verb tenses must agree in sentences); mastering the writing process: pre-write, outline, draft, revise, edit, and polish, among other essential skills.

For 3rd grade Science and Social studies, I anticipate schools to include in their curriculum series of activities, including, hands-on projects that illustrate the subject matter, such as maintaining a class plant house to show the development of plants and flowers; comparing and contrasting the human skeleton to animal skeletal systems; Tracking water cycles and studying how they relate to the formation of clouds; knowing how to read world maps; being able to find locations on the globe, comparing different parts of their communities/counties/regions; study topics relating to Liberian/African  and world history, among others.

So, let me ask again. Do you know the concepts, knowledge and skills your child will [is likely to] be acquiring this school year?  If you are unaware, perhaps it is time to look at your child’s school curriculum. A curriculum is extremely important in determining the education roadmap and social advancement of your child. That document, the curriculum prepares your child, my child, and an individual with the knowledge to be successful, confident and responsible citizens. I sure do want my child and every child to be successful! Don’t you wish the same?

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