Our study draws three broad conclusions:
1. The six countries studied – Chile, China, India, Mexico, Singapore, and the United States – all recognized that educational goals for all students needed to be broadened.
They designed new curricular frameworks in response to the perceptions that the demands of the labor market were changing and that civic participation would require greater sophistication and responsibility.
Governments in each country led or contributed to the development of these curriculum frameworks, often in collaboration with civil society groups and drawing on the work of supranational organizations.
2. In most of the countries studied, cognitive goals continue to dominate and interpersonal and intrapersonal competencies receive less emphasis in the curriculum.
The countries emphasize different competencies. For example, Singapore stands out with its strong emphasis on values-based education. Chile and Mexico stand out with their focus on democratic citizenship education. India’s curriculum framework is arguably the most holistic and broadest in terms of its goals. The United States and China emphasize higher order cognitive skills.
Underpinning these various emphases, however, there are more commonalities than are apparent on the surface. Countries may use different language when addressing similar competencies. For instance, citizenship education in Chile and in Mexico invokes many of the same interpersonal and intrapersonal competencies that are reflected in Singapore’s values-based education or in India’s emphasis on global citizenship and education for peace.
3. While the six countries had much in common in terms of the goals of their education reform, their approaches to implementation differed significantly, and implementation of these broader curriculum frameworks remains a challenge.
Implementation plans included the development of new textbooks for system-wide use, the organization of new teacher education programs, the establishment of partnerships with businesses and NGOs, and the identification of schools for pilot implementations, among many others.
The various degrees of centralization and decentralization in countries shaped their experiences of policy implementation. In Singapore, the country’s relatively small size and the strong partnerships between the Ministry of Education, the National Institute of Education (the national teacher training institute), and the schools, supported alignment in implementation. China, with its strong, centralized, education ministry, also had a rather straightforward, sequential rollout of its curricular reforms. By contrast, in Chile’s relatively small but decentralized education system, the Ministry of Education’s implementation efforts were hampered by relatively limited authority over schools. In India, Mexico, and the United States, too, coherence was harder to achieve.
The countries also differed in terms of the managerial theories that influenced their approaches. While some countries emphasized measurement of student learning outcomes and using incentives to hold teachers and administrators accountable for student performance (carrots and sticks) others emphasized the development of skills and capacity among teachers and adults (professionalism). This dichotomy does not mean that education systems either tested students or provided professional development to teachers; all did a mix of both, but countries varied in the fundamental underlying approach to improvement. This distinction is most visible in the contrast between the United States, which emphasized accountability, and Singapore, which emphasized the development of professionalism.
In several countries, 21st century education strategies conflicted with those strategies oriented towards other educational goals. In Chile, for example, accountability initiatives, particularly assessments, focused on different skills than those highlighted in the new curriculum. There was no clear strategy for how to prioritize each of these policy objectives. In Chile, Mexico, and the United States, there were also disconnects between teacher preparation and the goals of the new curricula, while in Singapore teacher preparation was much more aligned to the new curriculum.
In the next blog post, we will discuss the shared challenges faced by the countries we studied and our recommendations.