Principles of Curriculum Design


A curriculum can be taken as a generalized attempt to transfer the important features of an educational system’s goals and objectives in a precise format that can be translated for practical execution. An effective curriculum design gives room for professional criticism aimed at improving on its content and relating it to the best possible degree to its intended beneficiaries and the environment to which the learning is intended to be effected. A curriculum design should be consultative enough as to reflect the public feeling of the nation that they may want to see birthed from their education system. It should include formal and informal societal values and beliefs that would be expected to be shaped through the education principles provided within the curriculum and passed to the learners. The national goals are best expressed through an effective curriculum, for the best values and patriotism in citizens is best instilled during the school going age. Therefore the success or failure of an entire nation’s future can be attached to the quality of design of its national curriculum, a fact that greatly underscores the significance of the paper. The attributes of a good valuable curriculum can be attested to the quality of its designers, the professionalism of the teachers that it provides for, the learners that it is intended for and the society in which it is meant to be delivered to. An effective curriculum should clearly and conspicuously outline its mandate through the three stages of what the designers plan or intend to pass to learners and to the society in general, the deliverables, that is, what the teachers practically teach on the ground and finally what is eventually learned and experienced by the learners who go through the system as confirmed by various measurement procedures (White, 1988).

Based on the national importance attached to the curriculum design it is important that the designers consider carefully the purposes they want to achieve and the specific learning and teaching experiences that can effectively meet these purposes. The designers should then develop a way to organize and prioritize these purposes into specific and measurable stages that are relevant and attainable within a given scope of time. Once this has been carefully and professionally crafted the expected outcome can be seen from the beginning and the requirement for the content delivery can be availed in time. It is also significant to put in place the mechanisms to assess and evaluate the success of the system from the beginning so that the implementers can set their targets based on such mechanisms (Widdowson, 2003).

Statement of the problem

Whereas the government-suggested curriculum serves the general needs of the majority of the Hong Kong students, teachers and the society at large, it may fail to capture and cater for the specific variations in the needs, abilities and interests of students and teachers that are related to their unique situation in their respective schools.

This paper attempts to critically analyze the government’s English curriculum on senior secondary school education with a light to identifying ways and means to modify and adjust the document into a school-based curriculum.

Literature review

Hong Kong has an area of 646 square miles with a current population of over 6.8 million, the territory was restored to China in July 1997 but was left with full control of most of its public sectors including education sector. The Hong Kong education system was inherited from the British colonial masters after their departure in 1997. The system provides for nine years of compulsory education for all citizens six of which are covered in the primary education and the rest three years in the junior secondary education. However the current introduction of a 3 – 3 – 4 education system will see the new system fully in operation at all levels in May 2012 with the phasing out of the national HKALE examinations.

Hong Kong has remained focused on achieving competitive edge with its neighbors especially in areas of educational programs that would earn it international recognition for its graduates and personnel forces. The office of the Education secretary and manpower in Hong Kong has made it clear that reforms must be effected in the education sector to give it a competitive advantage in the rising global economy and that the system must mold the citizens in such a way that they be at pal with the rest of the international communities in critical thinking and in international language articulation. Therefore there is now a renewed national effort to refurbish the education sector to reflect the new Hong Kong objectives and better the skills of its students. The current Hong Kong educational objectives are geared towards enabling its citizens to acquire desired development in all aspects of their choice. This would in return contribute largely to the betterment of the living standards of the citizens, and the well being of the world in general (Widdowson, 2003).

Hong Kong has further observed that it’s most significant current social investment that can deliver long term benefits to its citizen is mainly in its education sector. This realization has led to an overhaul review of the ongoing system with an aim of improving it further with the government pledging to allocate more funds to the schools. The reform targets all levels of the entire education structure including the informal kindergarten schools, primary, secondary and the expansion of access to tertiary institutions. A closure look at the Hong Kong secondary schools reveals that it is a blend between the British and Chinese systems. The British elements in the school are evident in the classroom arrangement and the students’ uniform while the Chinese elements in the schools are characterized by the spirit of hard work, memorization and seriousness in school programs (Richards, 2001).

Hong Kong has grown increasingly keen on the investment in the modern information technology (IT) in schools for learning purposes. A 1998 survey paper allocated an investment amounting to HK$ 3,214 million in the initial pool and HK$ 556 million each year after the launch. The move was directed to allocating forty computers in every primary school and eighty two computers in every secondary school in all regions of Hong Kong. In addition the move was aimed at establishing at least eighty five thousand information technology (IT) training facilities for use by the teachers from all educational stages as well as to serve students after classes. Hong Kong government is encouraging its students to be trilingual and learn English, Mandarin and cantose in schools. Most secondary schools can now use Mandarin language for instruction after the establishment of a Mandarin curriculum in 1998. Language resource centers have also been established. The government has also been promoting the concept of “through train school” which is a model through which schools are linked so as to allow learners to get promotion from one level to another without sitting for generalized test. This promotion is based on the understanding that the teaching methodology and the curriculum were consistent and linked to each other (Tyler, 1949).

The availability of qualified teachers in Hong Kong has been an issue of national concern for sometime. The students have always demanded to have professional team of teachers who are committed and dedicated to the objectives of the curricula. The government is raising the standards for entry into the teaching profession to allow teachers to have good command and competence in the subject combinations that they want to teach. The government also wants the teacher’s possession of an undergraduate degree be a mandatory requirement before entry into the teaching service. Though some members of public feel that the education reform are so rapid in their implementation the government remain committed to having education sector flourish just as it is always committed to poverty eradication and good governance in Hong Kong (Jordan, 1997).

Analysis of information

The information under research and analysis here is based on language development strategies as provided on the Government’s suggested curriculum and assessment guide for English language Secondary 4 to 6.

The English curriculum recommends basic strategies that would help the learner develop language skills effectively. First the curriculum provides that the learner should develop thinking skills through reasoning, exploration and speculation on possibilities, through data and situational analysis as well as through judicial thinking. It should be noted here that thinking patterns are so much influenced by the environmental factors surrounding the learner. For example, Hong Kong secondary school being situated in Tuen Mun is surrounded by poor residence who struggle through life each day. The students as well come from poor background and are always struggling to make the ends meet. Such an environment aligns a student’s thinking pattern in the way he/she reasons and the issues he/she may speculate on. Their life is surrounded with impossibilities and pessimism clouds student’s thinking. The teacher in the other hand is stressed by the heavy demands of the population that distorts his/her fashionable thinking and reasoning prowess. For this reason the implementation of the intended strategies in language skills as provided in the curriculum is thrown to jeopardy. In such a case then the student are at a risk of not being at a position to reshape their thinking pattern as a way of improving their language skills for the environment has derailed even the mind of the teacher that could other wise offer guidance. This is not the case for students in a band one school in a big cosmopolitan city where the majority are well of and have surplus to invest. In such an environment one can afford to direct his thoughts to more important matters for there is no life threatening issues occupying the mind like extreme hunger (Kelly, 2004).

The curriculum also provides that the learner develops reference skills through the proper use of the library, online research and relationship identification. In Hong Kong library and internet resources are not sufficient for every student at the time when the student require them. This calls for competition for such important leaning resources. Such competition is done at the expense of time and other important learning activities. In cases where such resources are unavailable the mind of a student may not concentrate on any other important task for it had already been fixed on what has proved difficult to acquire. Due to the constraints, the teacher may try to design options like use of charts a fact that consumes time for other important teaching activities. It is therefore observed that teaching and learning activities provided by the government’s document falls a little short of the expectation in such a school and what the learner finally acquires is constrained by time and resources from both the learner and the teacher’s side of view (McNeil, 2003).

Development of information skills is cited as another strategy for language development. The curriculum suggests that this should be realized through systematic storage of information collected, use of graphics like pie charts to express ideas, making notes and taking of clear and concise notes from spoken sources. This strategy is well adaptable in Hong Kong Secondary school just as it is provided in the curriculum. Being a strong point for both students and teachers it would be used to strengthen areas that have suffered due to dented attitudes. The positive attributes of the language development that is possessed by either learners or teachers can be used as a tool to transform the attitude and the thinking pattern of the student and improve on the performance. As a way of developing language skills students are able to interact with the teachers and other resource facilities, though inadequate, synthesize, evaluate, and store the resultant information. The teachers also give research topics, dictate class notes or ask students to write reports from debate contests to develop these skills (Richards, 2001).

Development of enquiry skills through use of appropriate tones when asking for advice or giving suggestions is another strategy recommended by the curriculum for language development. The others includes proper planning and management of learning through setting realistic time bound goals and making deliberate efforts to use English language in natural setting. Self motivation and working pro actively with others is also encouraged by the curriculum as means to develop English language. These latter strategies are mainly learner based and to a large extent are applicable as they are provided by the curriculum. However the extent to which actual learning takes place depends on the individual’s state of mind at the time of learning as it may be dictated upon by the environmental factors at that time. Emphasis on this positive values can create confidence among the learners despite their background and the environment of the school. The teachers should create such environments where the learner can be made to forget the challenges outside the school by replacing them with positive schooling aspects. This would mitigate the consequences brought forth by external factors such as poverty that adversely affects the performance of the students (Johnson, 1989).

Necessary modifications and adjustments

The English curriculum for the senior secondary schools gives room for innovative inclusions as an opportunity for participation of learners in the curriculum planning to have relevant school – based curriculum. This is a golden opportunity for the students and the teachers to make sure that issues that went against their needs, interests and abilities are minimized. This would then set an excellent environment for with improved synergy to work harder and realize the learning objectives in a shorter span of time. Based on the problems noted on the research in teaching and learning language development strategies there is a need to point out necessary areas on the curriculum that require modifications and adjustments for the benefit of the teacher and student at Hong Kong secondary school at Tuen Mun. The school is faced with a challenge of dented attitude brought by its locality and the kind of students that it attracts. There is also the challenge of resources in the school that undermines the performance of the students. The school should therefore set a task force to adjust the curriculum to meet these challenges. With a school based curriculum that encompasses these challenges then the teachers and the students shall be well guided on areas to give urgency and importance based on their needs, abilities and interests (Ellis, 2003).

To overcome the resource challenge teachers should adopt the friendlier task based system by using the idea of stage modules, relevant units and students’ specific tasks. The objectives are then arrived at by concentrating on the students’ tasks that can be generated through teachers tailor made modules that meets the needs and falls within the ability of the learner at the time of learning. Such module based organization of learning and teaching provides step by step guidance to learners and offers means of self evaluation. The method is also a perfect way for the development of cross – curricular teaching resources. The figure below outlines an example how such tasks can formulated and arranged in a given module. The example uses one of the recommended modules for senior students at secondary level, that is, Study, School Life and Work (Graves, 2000).

If the given tasks do not meet the desired curriculum objectives or if time allows for further practice by the learners extensions to the tasks can be made from the main initial tasks as demonstrated in the example below.

With such an approach the challenges of Hong Kong Secondary school are minimized and the teacher and students can enjoy the benefits of the flexibility of the school based curriculum. Any variations of the students need can be met with the change in the tasks or extended task that shall constitute a project that shall uniquely meet the desired curriculum goals.

In deciding on the relevant module, the teacher should consider carefully the students’ background and the most prevailing need at the time when the lesson is to be executed. The teacher should also bear in mind the ability levels of the students and what interests them most. Secondly, the teacher should consider what his/her interests are, the areas of competency and the readiness to instruct on the chosen module. In student centered approaches the need of the students are given priority over those of the teacher, however the teacher should be able to strike a balance between the two. Thirdly, the teacher should consider the learning objectives as outlined in the curriculum in force, this would in turn specify the content required and therefore the most appropriate module to use. The other important consideration is the perceived culture of the school and general support that may be expected once use of a given modules is used. Modules that demand so much external support should be avoided if such support is not forthcoming. Finally the availability of resources for use in a given module should be considered. If the resource materials are not available within the school efforts can be made to establish their availability outside the school before shelving a preferred module (Clark, 1987).

Conclusion and Recommendation

Curriculum design relates the contents that are intended to be relayed to students with the appropriate resources that would appropriately see the execution of the teaching and learning process in the various schools where the curriculum is to be implemented. The implementation cycle of the curriculum may be faced with challenges that are unique to a particular institution brought about by the prevailing circumstances surrounding the institution at the time of implementation. Such challenges can be internal for example limited resources in the school like equipped library, language halls etc. Other internal factors can be large teacher students’ ratio, lack of enough spacious classrooms or lack of enough professional teachers. The problems can also be due to external factors for example hostile whether. The challenges may also be general encompassing a number of institutions but caused by factors that could not be foreseen during the planning cycle. For this reason the teachers may require to implement new teaching methodologies and adopt new learning resources such as may not have been provided in the curriculum design. In doing so the teacher relates the students need and the learning objectives and finds ways and means to bridge them together. Therefore what eventually brings about the students’ holistic learning experience in cognitive, affection and psychomotor skills is a product of that which was provided in the original curriculum and any other adjustments made in the course of the implementation to meet the desired objectives (Braine, 2005).

It can therefore be recommended that flexibility in the curriculum design be provided to allow for innovative measures to be deployed to adjust and modify the curriculum so as to approach the unique needs of the students more directly and effectively. The learners should be encouraged to participate more pro-actively and help in coming up with a more coherent tailor made and school-based curriculum, that suits the schools unique learning and teaching environment. In making this adjustments the Learners’ need and the ability of the teacher should be carefully considered. In the English curriculum in particular the schools should make deliberate moves to ensure the use of tasks and related activities for the compulsory and elective parts. This would balance the intended coverage of the learning objectives in grammar and communication skills. Secondly the schools should help to select modules from the elective section that would allow to further learners’ experience and provide for the variations in their perceived interests, prevailing needs and their pronounced abilities. Finally, the school should improve on the use of formative tests to give room for learning and teaching experiences that would provide feedback in good time to help students to improve on the weak points and assist the teacher to periodically revise the lesson plans accordingly.


Braine, G. (Ed.) (2005). Teaching English to the world: History, curriculum and practice. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. Cambridge University Press.

Clark, J.C. (1987). Curriculum renewal in school foreign language learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ellis, R. (2003). Task-based language learning and teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Graves, K. (2000). Designing language courses: A guide for teachers. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.

Johnson, R.K. (Ed.) (1989). The second language curriculum. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jordan, R.R. (1997). English for academic purposes: A guide and resource book for teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kelly, A.V. (2004). The curriculum: Theory and practice (5th ed.) London: Sage

McNeil, J.D. (2003). Curriculum: The teacher’s initiative (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall. Oxford University Press.

Richards, J.C. (2001). Curriculum development in language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tyler, R.W. (1949). Basic principles of curriculum and instruction. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

White, R.V. (1988). The ELT curriculum: Design, innovation and management. Oxford: Blackwell

Widdowson, H.G. (2003). Defining issues in English language teaching. Oxford: Blackwell

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