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What is a National Curriculum?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2016
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A national curriculum is a set of educational standards devised by a central government to be implemented in government-funded schools. The primary example of a national curriculum is the United Kingdom, where a system has been in place since the 1980s. In the United States, Australia, and other countries around the globe, the question of a national curriculum is a matter of occasional heated debate; supporters argue that the program can provide a well-assessed general base of knowledge for all students, while detractors see it as overly restrictive and potentially biased toward the educational preferences of the makers.

Most countries do not have a specific national curriculum. In the United States, state governments often determine learning standards, although these guidelines are not strictly enforced and allow a wide variety of interpretations by individual schools and teachers. A national learning standard is often criticized as being too generalized and too restricted; teachers, people fear, would not be allowed to engage the individual needs and interests of students if forced to teach specific subjects in a specific manner.

Yet the British curriculum program, when carefully examined, provides teachers with a considerable amount of freedom to impart national standards with personal flair. The government standards set goals about what must be taught rather than how it must be learned. For instance, students of a certain age must study literature, but teachers are free to choose whichever books they prefer as a means of teaching literature.

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National curriculum systems generally require some type of assessment or standardized testing every few years. Rather than assessing a student's intelligence, the primary goal of the assessment tests are to measure how well the teacher or school is meeting the aims set out by the curriculum. In the British system, students are tested several times throughout their education to measure their progress and success in the system. Low scores may not hamper a student's progress through compulsory education, but can impact college admissions much like a low SAT® or ACT® score.

Whether nationwide curriculum should be implemented in other countries is a matter of constant debate. Australia has drafted several versions of a curriculum against various protests, one of which is set to be implemented in 2011. In the United States, fear of socialistic tendencies has kept national curriculum a tricky topic. Viewing the British model, many are disturbed by the inclusion of religious education, fearing that this threatens freedom of expression and will disrupt parental attempts to a specific religious upbringing. Whether or not the curriculum would improve education is an argument often lost beneath the questions about what should be taught and who should have the right to determine acceptable subjects.

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