The Curriculum At Crossroads : Dr Utpal Mallik, Head, Department of Computer Education, NCERT, New Delhi, India

What purpose do we want children to attain through a course of study?
What experiences are needed to attain them?
How to organise those experiences?
How do we know they have been attained?

These questions define curriculum; answers to them define a curriculum.

While computers and allied technologies make their way into a growing number of India’s schools, what constitutes their effective use in education is open to debate. Intrusion into the school system by an external agent, be it an exotic technology, an alien practice, or both – banal or beneficial – usually comes with the argument that it is to bring about changes in the content, process and outcome of schooling. But the school curriculum is showing no sign of change, for better or for worse, the technology notwithstanding. Meanwhile, a coalition of educators, industry and well-meaning others is worried about the lack of ‘quality content’ which seems to be limiting the use of ICT in schools.  This calls for a close look at the scope of digital content in the school curriculum.
There are two commonplace assumptions on which the idea of digital content is presently based. Remedial programmes on hard spots in the curriculum are based on the assumption that there are some universally perceived difficult areas in a course of study which can be made more understandable with the help of computer programmes. One can call them digital guidebooks!

The other assumption upon which various kinds of programmes with rich media elements are developed on all conceivable topics taught in the school is that these enrichment programmes are beneficial to all learners. This one-jacket-fits-all variety usually makes
everybody happy. 

But this is tomorrow’s technology in yesterday’s classroom, which ultimately limits the scope of its innovative uses in the school. The new information technology has far greater prospect than as a delivery device for content. Despite its brashness, the technology entrenched in the existing teaching practice does not bring about change in the curriculum.

Exploring the World Wide Web has not been widely explored as a serious activity. Few schools contribute to this source of content or use the Web as a place to meet peer groups and experts to exchange ideas.  There should be many more models that combine the global network and the local curricula than there presently are. We do not witness much of appropriate, effective and relevant uses of digital content and certainly not many innovations in the use of the technology in the school curriculum.

This takes us to the old curriculum questions asked above. Clearly, planning for technology integration into school curriculum is planning for a curriculum. If this is our goal, it is time we answered those four questions accordingly.  The policy on digital content cannot be separated from the policy on the curriculum that adopts the content.  

Whether our purpose is to make children critical thinkers, problem solvers and adept at the twenty first century skills (as some people hope) or to attain more tangible educational outcome, the ICT-integrated curriculum still has to function within the constraints of the systemic reality. Curriculum designers are not inspired to plan for organising learning experiences enhanced by the technology. Teachers’ pre-service or in-service experience of using the technology in teaching is limited.  The public examination at the end of the day is not meant to evaluate the outcome of learning in a technology integrated classroom. Thus the resistance to curriculum change comes from the curriculum itself, which is designed and implemented for goals that are not the same as those of the technology mediated experience. Systemic reform would require broad, coordinated change across the many levels and facets of school education to bring the two goals closer.
The age-old dichotomy between the content and the process should not escape attention. It is the process that can be technology assisted, not just, if at all, the content. The processes of collecting and analysing information, communicating ideas, planning and organising activities and working with others are defined by the technology that is adopted to do those jobs. Computers are process tools. They can help students share ideas and undertake a range of activities that are similar to the processes in the workplace. There are indications that in the coming days there will be less demand on students to know more content and more demand on their ability to take part in processes. Practices that prepare young people for tomorrow’s workplace should be promoted, not those that end in themselves.