The Crowded Curriculum and the Question of Content

Making content matter requires a focus on inquiry learning and the emergent curriculum. Specific attention needs to be given to the role of the teacher in the inquiry process as well as to recognising the whole-school-environment as an important element for integrating a curriculum which is overflowing with purpose and creativity for learners and teachers alike.

The “crowded curriculum” encapsulates the pressures of content that teachers feel in meeting the demands they put upon themselves, and confront from government institutions and the broader society, inflamed by shock-jocks.

To many the curriculum problem can appear to be a recent phenomena, perhaps a product of the late 20th-Century’s explosion of information and the means for its delivery; the increasing expectations upon teachers to provide solutions and success for individual student needs; and to solve all social and economic dilemmas.

John Dewey, the North American philosopher and educator, spoke of similar curriculum concerns in the early decades of the last century. It remains important to think about the actual circumstances of teaching, learning and schooling today in relation to curriculum content and modes of delivery.

Consider the following;
• There are about 1,000 hours of class-time each year out of a total of 8760 hours, which leaves 7,760 out-of-school-hours.
• The first six years of school age are equal to a total of 52,560 hours while total-class-time is 6,000 hours, leaving 46,560 out-of-school-hours.
• That is, class-room time is one hour out of every nine, or approximately 11.5 % of the student’s life.

Clearly, more learning will happen in the out–of–school-hours than in total-class-time. As so much learning does take place in out-of-school-hours, it is vital that connections be made with the ways they impact on school experiences.

Inquiry-learning not only builds on the positive aspects of what is learnt elsewhere but also assists students to “unlearn” much that is specious or tendentious. For example, students will be encouraged to understand the cultural reasons behind the spelling of “lite” and the phrase “Toys-R-Us”.

These concerns pose many questions about the tasks before teachers. One important proposition is that we must make careful and consistent choices; judgements must be made, so that as much as is humanly possible can be enriched by total-class-time and the whole-of-school-time experience.

The easy way out is to remove play and drama, music and the environment in favor of a tick-the-box approach to literacy and numeracy. This bias presumes, first, that play and drama, music and the environment are not in the children’s minds when filling in their work-sheets, and secondly, that learning about drama, music and the environment is possible without deepening the students’ comprehension of language and mathematics.


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