Innovation in Education (1): A curriculum perspective



We are living in the era of Knowledge-based economy where knowledge is bringing broader economic growth. Economies are now transforming from managing knowledge to innovating with knowledge. This transformation is accelerating the growth of innovation-based economy.  21st century learners should acquire the needed skills for the projected innovation era that is emerging. In two previous posts, I discussed “Shifting to an innovation paradigm in education” first part on “The way things currently stand” and the second part on “How things stand in the future”. In this series of articles I will discuss how we can reach from status quo to the promising future of “schools as innovation learning hubs” starting with a curriculum perspective.

“If we agree on the need to develop the capabilities of many more youth to be innovators, and if we agree that many of the qualities of an innovator can be nurtured and learned, the question now becomes, what do we do? Where do we start as parents, teachers, mentors, and employers? “(Wagner, 2012). Schools need to do more than just select students according to their cognitive abilities. They need to become places where diverse talents are recognized and nurtured, where every student is made to feel special, has an opportunity to realize his or her full potential and succeed on his or her own terms – in other words, they need to become “New Paradigm” schools. (Nair 2008). This new paradigm is not possible to be achieved without a curriculum that is designed to foster the potential of each student.

What societies envisage as important teaching and learning constitutes the  “intended” curriculum.   However, at classroom level this intended curriculum may be altered through a range of complex classroom interactions, and what is actually delivered can be considered the “implemented” curriculum. What learners really learn constitutes the “achieved” or “learned” curriculum. In addition, curriculum theory points to a “hidden” curriculum (.. unforeseen aspects of a learning process). (UNESCO n.d.). The challenging question that faces educationalists is how can the curriculum with its various types vehicle and nurture innovation and adapt to predictable changes in the innovation era. Curriculm development decision making varies into two approaches around the world: centralized and decentralized. The method that is used will profoundly affect the learning process and determine the quality of its outcome.

Centralized curriculum development

In this model, the power is placed in the hand of one authority (national board, districts, provincial ..etc) that controls content and organizational elements of curriculum and impose it on schools. From aims, standards to teaching methods and text books all is passed to schools to attain to and follow.  Advocates of this model argue that though the process of development is centralized schools could still have an input through a feedback cycle to enhance the curriculum.One way to do this is through administering surveys and questionnairs. In centralized curriculum development the authority that is in charge of this process will be held accountable to facilitate it. This could be in the form of regulations, resources or professional development needed to overcome any obstacles of curriculum implementation. Led by experts, central curriculum development is expected to support more equity among schools as the central  authority will help them to ovecome barriers of implementing the curriculum.  The mass production in a centralized process will lead to less expensive resources. The uniformity of the system facilitates a smooth admission and transfer for the learners between the different schools in different districts.

However, there are many challenges that hinder the centralized approach. It is undeniable that a centralized process is bureaucratic by nature which implies longer processing time.  In addition, there is no guarantee that “What you plan is what you get”. In other words, what is developed at the top level is not necessarily, what is being implemented at the school level. Teachers who feel no ownership of what is being planned for teaching might not be motivated enough to implement it. The specific local needs for learners in each district and in each school within the district could not be efficiently met by top down approach. Schools autonomy will provoke more effective and productive participation in improving the learning process inclusive of curriculum development. “It is only by individuals taking action to alter their own environments that there is any chance for deep change.” (Fullan 1993). This critical role of teachers as change agents is not supported by the centralized system..

Decentralized curriculum development:

Decentralization of curriculum development urges more school autonomy where decisions related to the curriculum are made by school committees, teachers and other local community stakeholders. This is expected to  escalate schools effectiveness and accountability. Additionally, the process of developing the curriculum and the learning resources needed will be more productive. By responding to learners’ needs in the local community schools will innovate diversely. This will ensure very adaptable response to local learners needs.  In contrast to uniformity this bottom up approach will provide flexibility in adapting  to emerged needs. Along with this, commitment and innovation will be cultivated in the school community. Teachers will have incentive to work harder to have their plans in action as a mean of self-actualization. This will lead schools to thrive and operate at a higher level of proficiency. The learning process will be more personalized. It will unite with local communities resulting in an innovative aspiring partnership with stakeholders.

However, school autonomy is not without an expense. School autonomy throws a large burden on school’s community, which needs to have the human capital that is ready to initiate change. Without an effective professional development framework, teachers will not perform adequately in curriculum development. It is a consistent change process that relies on initiating and fostering the culture of autonomous self sufficient schools. Furthermore, students assessment in a decentralized process will differ from one school to another based on what is taught in each school. This will result on a more complicated process for students transfer and admission.


Which curriculum development approach will foster more innovation in education?

Neither top-down nor bottom-up strategies for educational reform work. What is required is a more sophisticated blend of the two. Fullan (1994).

What if we mix centralized and decentralized approaches? In the resulted approach, higher authorities on district or national level lever only few main tasks while the majority of tasks are delegated to schools. For  more cohesiveness, standards and the broader framework is developed centrally. This represent the aims and goals that need to be achieved nationwide or the “what to learn”. Schools can take charge of the detailed content,textbooks, professional development ,diverse methods and plans to deliver the curriculum, instruction time and assessment mainly “How to learn”. What students study can then be divided into two main categories, the core subjects that are obligatory with its standards provided centrally and the supplementary subjects, which is developed on school level.  To ensure accountability schools are inspected by external central authorities. The evaluation will review and evaluate school curriculum, instructions and assessment. Schools will have their freedom and power to innovate within a common framework.  However, this combination between centralization and decentralization in curriculum development evoke a research based evidence about schools readiness to move to the projected broad space of autonomy.  People learn about the innovation through their interactions with the innovation and others in the context of innovation. Deep ownership comes through the learning that arise form full engagement in solving problems. (Fullan 2006). A vision is needed to be set toward developing school autonomy as centralization doesn’t meet the waves of disruptive innovation happening massively around the world. Today’s students want an education that meets their individual needs, and opportunities that connect them to what is happening around the globe. They challenge us to be innovative and to make learning environments more exciting, challenging and rewarding. (Chaafi 2014)


Amett, T., (2014) Why disruptive innovation matters to education. Accessed December 15th 2015

Chaafi, W., (2014).  What Does it Mean To Be Innovative in Education? Accessed December 15th 2015.

Fullan, M., (1993). Change Forces: Probing the Depths of Educational Reform.

Fullan, M., (1994). Coordinating Top-Down and Bottom-Up Strategies for Educational Reform.

Fullan, M., (2006). Change theory A force for school improvement.

Nair, P., (2008). Early Praise for 30 Strategies for Education Innovation.

UNESCO. Different meanings of “curriculum”. Accessed December 15th 2015

Wagner, T. How Do We Develop Young People to Become Innovators? Accessed December 15th .

Copyrights Bashaer M. Al Kilani @bashaierk 2015