As pointed out in Yeung’s work(2012), subject content in most cases has been taken as a product of what it’sknown to be “accumulated wisdom”, and traditionally it’s believed that theacquisition of that is done through some planned academic disciplinary areas.In the context of primary school education in Hong Kong, quite obviously, suchwill be the three core subjects, namely Chinese, English and Mathematics. Thesein fact are the main areas for which the compulsory Territory-wide SystemAssessment has been testing since 2004. It’s not hard thus to see why theschool curricula in Hong Kong for a long time have been designed and developed aroundthe core subjects (i.e.
Curriculum as Subject). Just as stated in the samearticle on contemporary issues affecting Hong Kong’s curriculum (Yeung, 2012), thiskind of curriculum design and its associated emphasis on subject contentdelivery have to a large extent affected not only how the general public viewand interpret the local schools’ curriculum, but even the in-service teachersas well. From a classroom teachingperspective, this may explain why teachers have for quite a long time beenworking so hard to teach what has been clearly stated in the syllabus, and evendrill the students repetitively to tackle questions that might typically appearin public examinations.
This kind of examination and subject-content-orientedteaching style is not favourable to and in some cases, forbids the teaching ofother equally important, but “out-of-syllabus” content. As quoted by Yeung (2012) in herarticle, apart from building upon the subject content that the local schoolsprovide, curriculum can also be “the process of experiencing the sense ofmeaning and direction that ensues from teacher and student dialogue” (Schubert1986, p. 29). In short, that’s what we now refer to as experiential learningand teaching.
In Hong Kong, that’s being enabled by the launch of The OtherLearning Experiences (OLE) program, which is a major component under the NewSecondary System (NSS). Actually, schools in Hong Kong, not only secondaryschools, but also primary, have in recent years incorporated more and moreschool-based experiential learning programmes and activities, like schooloutings, workshops organized and taught by professionals and even subject fundays etc. into their own year plans. This in a sense helps achieve the purposeof “Curriculum as Experience” and it allows students to get new insights, whichmight not be so easily measured/assessed, and this can hardly be achieved bythe “Curriculum as Subject” model alone. Having seen the new definitionsof curriculum and how it can be modified to be incorporated in the normalteaching/operations of a school, it should be clearly stated here that thepivotal component among all these would definitely be the ones who carry it outat the front-line, and they are teachers.
With the rapid proliferation ofcurriculum development and the also the change in expectations of the role ofteachers, nowadays, teachers not only simply take up the role of delivering knowledgeto students, they also are actively involved in the reform of curriculumcriteria regarding assessments. It’s good to include teachers, instead of justthe senior rank staff in the process of curriculum reform that would lead tochanges all across the school; however, as pointed out in Hui, Brown ‘s work (2017), in a Chinese society, the idea of assessment foraccountability is still heavily embedded in teachers’ mindset. Having thisconcept in mind, in a lot of local schools, the atmosphere created is very muchrelated to using assessment as a rule/measure to quantify the degree ofunderstanding of the students, as well as to evaluate the effectiveness of theteaching delivered by the teachers. In such sense and in such setting, havinggood performance in examinations is considered to be the prior and ultimategoal of learning, or even schooling. The above-mentioned long-heldperception towards assessments by the majority of in-service teachers would toa large extent affect the roles of the curriculum leaders of the school. And asput it by one of the interviewed primary curriculum leaders, “vulnerability ofthe school, as a historical factor, which hinders the change and can hardly besolved within a short period of time.
” (Hui, Brown & Chan, 2017) Regardlessof how well-planned and how determined the curriculum leaders are, if there areso many different constraints, both personal and historical (with thehistorical component referring to the implementation of certain criteria toassess the performance of schools as compared to other schools of Hong Kong,like the Territory-wide System Assessment as well as the External SchoolReview), it’s hard for the curriculum leaders to make any big modifications andlaunch any new scheme so as to help the school to move towards a more”Assessment for Learning” approach, and thus, in a lot of the times, the design,format as well as the wordings used in whole-year curriculum plan or even the3-year-plan of the schools are still repeating what the schools have been doingpreviously—examination/skill-driven, instead of student-based to cater forthe learning needs. As an in-service school teacher, onone hand I see the need of having a structured curriculum which states thekey-learning areas of individual subjects, but I also see the need of certaindegree of flexibility within the curriculum so that teachers can create morediverse learning opportunities for students. It might be difficult for me tolaunch any big changes on the curriculum to my current school since I am only anew and rather junior member, but what I can do is to see how I can createmeaningful learning experiences, both in-class and out of the class for mystudents, so that what should be covered as stated in the syllabus will be taught,and in addition to that, I can provide something more for my students. Ibelieve the idea of “Curriculum as Experience”, or “Learning by Doing” is agreat way to enhance students’ understanding of certain concepts, and ifplanned carefully, it can enable students to apply what they have learnt inclass—one example of that would be to really set up stores in class and mimicthe setting of a supermarket when it comes to teaching the concept of askingfor price for different daily items. So, apart from broadening students’horizons, it can serve as a consolidation process as well. Students would inthe process be able to get involved, experience and use the language in ameaningful setting, and that’s the main goal that I want to achieve when I planmy lessons. While for the assessment stylesthat we have been adopting for a long time, which is the assessment oflearning, mainly relying on high-stakes summative assessments, what I can thinkof is not to change all these to the formative counterparts all in a sudden,but to slowly integrate the elements of such into our lessons. For instance,for me as an English teacher, I can think of allowing students to present theirideas and to conclude the lessons with a lesson to test their degree ofunderstanding, and how well they can master the language items that have beencovered in the lesson.
If we follow the concept of “curriculum as subject”,there should be at least some ways to keep on measuring students’ performance,so, some in-class tasks would be a good way to help serve the need. And whenthe teaching of the subject follows the flow based on different assigned tasks,then this style of teaching or curriculum is said to be task-based. This isanother direction that teachers could consider, especially when we want toenhance the abilities of the students to apply their knowledge in a morehands-on approach rather than just answering questions or blackening thecircles in a worksheet. In addition to this, going backto the point where the current in-service curriculum leaders have raised regardingthe lack of breakthroughs in school towards the design of curriculum, I thinkwhat we can do as teachers would be we can provide more details and be ready totry out new teaching methodologies, because at the end of the day, to myunderstanding, there isn’t a single most correct way when it comes to teachingof certain topics, but there are some ways which would better serve certaingroups of students or subjects of study.
So, we should not be staying in ouroriginal comfort zones all the time by only sticking to the usual styles thatwe have adopted for quite some time, what we can do is we can discuss among ourdepartments or teams to see whether certain ways of organizing the lessons anddelivering the subject content would work well for the students, and if someteachers have experimented with that and it’s proven to be successful, thenthrough lesson observations and sharing, other teachers would also bebenefited, and they might in turn apply those in their own lessons as well. In conclusion, I think there aredifferent ways to define curriculum and for different schools, they might havetheir own interpretations on that as well. In spite of that, the role asteachers has enabled us to work out or use our ways of teaching to deliver thelesson materials. In such sense, there is still certain room of flexibilitywhich we can make use of to enhance the focus of the curriculum—whether it’sexamination-driven, or it’s assessment for the benefits of learning. In theprocess, actually not only the curriculum leaders might be struggling, but thewhole team of teachers as well; but if the teachers have enough guidelines tofollow and can reflect on his/her teaching often, then he/she would be workingtowards the direction of designing a lesson that can possibly suit his/herstudents the most.
Last but not least, just as discussed during the public lecturetime, even when we are working in a very traditional local school with not muchroom for modifications on the curriculum, we still have to remind ourselvesthat it’s not the curriculum that matters, it’s the students that we areserving. We can experiment in our own classes first, then slowly build up aroutine/way, and that itself can already be a new component of a foreseeablygood curriculum that can be introduced to the remaining of the school in thenear future.