Throughout the world, the education curriculum is generally developed centred to technical competency (e.g. numeracy skills) and non-technical competency (e.g. personal skills) – notwithstanding the level of education (e.g. primary, secondary, and tertiary education).
In Malaysia, this is stated clearly in our National Curriculum Principle (by the Ministry of Education Malaysia, MOE) and also Malaysian Qualifications Framework (MQF) 2nd Edition (by the Malaysian Qualifications Agency, MQA).
Part of the essence of the National Curriculum Principle is “… curriculum and co-curriculum which encompass all knowledge, skills, norm, values, cultural elements and beliefs”. Quite a similar statement is made by the MQF on educational learning outcomes which comprise traits regarding “… knowledge and understanding, cognitive skills, functional work skills, personal and entrepreneurial skills, ethics and professionalism”.
Stemming from the above, developers of the educational curriculum will conceptualise a curriculum infusing the respective traits accordingly in their selected course/courses. Nevertheless, the tasks are not straightforward, whereby several pertinent phases must be duly taken care of.
Implicitly, the generic development of curriculum has three major steps: before, during, and after.
Firstly, prior to the development, the critical thought of the course’s goals, planning for curriculum development, and evaluation of a course’s ecosystem is deemed paramount. Multiple needs and requirements as collective information will eventually shape the provisions and boundaries of certain course’s curriculum. Here, stakeholders within the entire ecosystem have to play their part. They include the academia, industry, and society as well. Data gathered through numerous methods such as surveys, interviews, and observation is analysed and finally transcended as input for subsequent curriculum development.
Secondly, during the curriculum development itself, most of the tasks revolve within the academia which is led by the developer. Tasks such as the selection of learning experience, course content, assessment, and others are designed in this phase. More often than not, accreditation bodies are also involved at the end of this phase to guide and propose any specific betterment towards the respective courses’ curriculum. Here, the Outcome-Based Education (OBE) method is one of the tools to help developers. Mind you, the tasks are quite tedious and require meticulousness.
Thirdly is the final phase – when the completed curriculum is offered to the student. This phase is much longer in time. Typically, academia is focusing on the curriculum’s periodic performances and evaluations. The main reason is to rectify and make appropriate betterment to any concerned areas. Usually, findings and comments on student achievement will be gathered and analysed, before orderly rectification is made. Most probably, the involvement of the appropriate accreditation agencies (e.g. MQA) is present in this phase to ensure cohesiveness and quality of the educational courses.
Well, from all phases, development of the curriculum requires holistic effort from all stakeholders to ensure the courses’ sustainability. Or else, the entire curriculum will collapse, and this will have an adverse effect on the attainment level of each of the technical or non-technical competencies. Unfortunately, there were cases that related stakeholders surrounding the education ecosystem more often than not overlooked and failed to recognise and appreciate their responsibilities towards the education curriculum. This was generally apparent especially when the curriculum was currently being offered and running.
The above conundrum is very much visualised with regard to non-technical competencies. As the name implies, non-technical competencies require a longer learning curve by the students. Generally, classroom-based education is inadequate to provide those competencies since they have to be nurtured, practised, and learnt continuously. Additionally, it greatly depends on the environment that surrounds those particular students – beyond the classroom. Thus, in order to set a perspective for subsequent discussion, two pertinent stakeholders, namely the industry and society, will be briefly deliberated accordingly.
For instance, during the first phase of curriculum development, industry and society urge students to have good ethics and communication skills. Hence, the curriculum developer has to address those needs and its integration in the subsequent phase. They have to think of any means able to inculcate those traits in students, be they embedded within or provided outside of a certain course. Then, the ensuing third phase will evaluate students’ ethics and communication level, where feedback from both industry and society will be collected along the way.
What usually goes wrong here is that stakeholders within the ecosystem do not play their role holistically. In fact, they are intrinsically involved throughout all phases, and they are part of the nurturing and improvement processes. Particularly in the final stage, it is not just feedback from them that is valued, but their actual conduct of ethics and communication is desperately treasured.
Along the lengthy period of the third phase, educators alone will not be able to bring much improvement. Bad attitude and behaviour within society and misconduct inside the industry are among the last things to be presented to the students. Meanwhile, inappropriate communication either in written or spoken form, through printed or social media is also part and parcel for the failure of students’ non-technical competencies.
As an example in education, students are taught to be trustworthy, but in the real world, cases of breach of trust are abundant. Another smaller example – communication-related, rampant use of the unsuitable short form of texts are evidenced and, regrettably, it is swiftly creeping inside some official letters! All in all, these negative examples by the industry and society will not help in setting the right establishment of education curriculum, let alone prospering our nation. Although there are numerous suggestions and recommendations by individuals and organisations on these unprecedented issues, betterment seems too far-fetched – unless we start to recognise and appreciate our responsibilities.
Therefore, to answer the title of this letter - YES! All of us are part of our nation’s education curriculum, and no Catch-22 applies here. As the saying goes, as one finger points at others, at least three fingers are facing us. Hopefully, in the coming reformation of our education system and provisions as highlighted by our new government, all stakeholders will wholeheartedly play their part.
Dr Hairuddin Mohammad is Senior Lecturer at the Centre for Diploma Studies, Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia (UTHM), Batu Pahat, Johor.