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Chair: Paul Morris, UCL Institute of Education, England 

Many of the longstanding dilemmas which educators have sought to address have their roots in the multiple and sometimes contradictory purposes of schooling. For example: the quest to educate an obedient citizenry had to be balanced against the need to encourage criticality and creativity; promoting skills for employment had to be balanced by a desire to develop social and moral attributes; competition was promoted whilst in parallel seeking to encourage cooperation and compassion. More recent variations of these dilemmas include  the quest to educate citizens who will lead the nation to compete in the ‘global knowledge economy’ whilst in parallel expecting schools to ensure pupils are patriotic promoters of their own national and/or cultural traditions. The rapidly increasing influence of global agencies and of global education businesses and their claim to measure ‘quality education’ creates another layer of complexity which is now manifested inschool systems seeking to provide a broad and balanced curriculum which serves the needs of the nation whilst at the same time ensuring rapid improvement in pupils’ performance on cross national tests in a narrow range of subjects.

It is within the concrete manifestations of school curricula that these various dilemmas are ‘resolved’ and delivered to school pupils. Decisions concerning curricula, textbooks and citizenship education are especially critical and represent the historical outcome of the struggles to control education. Other examples are:

  • The time allocated to school subjects.
  • The changing value of subjects in systems of high stakes assessment, what is included and excluded from the curriculum as well as what is assessed.
  • The content of school textbooks and the politics of who decides which textbooks are used.
  • The role of common curricula.
  • The Medium of Instruction.
  • The overall conception of the ‘educated’ person and the ‘good’ citizen that the curriculum seeks to develop.

These decisions are central to the operation of school systems and take on added significance in light of the various shifts identified in the Conference rubric. Thus, inter alia, the movement of refugees and migrants across borders, the rise of nationalist and sometimes xenophobic political movements and the emergence of increasingly polarised and populist political environments have had a powerful impact on school curricula.

This Working group explore these issues with a focus on curricula at all levels of formal education.