Recent evidence in the US indicates that high school students, who have completed more academic subjects than their predecessors, increasingly view academic schoolwork as less interesting, less meaningful, and less likely to be useful later in life (Wraga 2009). Yet we are seeing a big push in the US to increase the amount of mandatory core curriculum courses in the public school system, which in turn is pushing many elective courses out of our schools. The core curriculum is defined and interpreted by most institutions as English, Math, and Science. If interest in a subject matter is an indication of how much we learn, or actually get out of it, then the following research would suggest that our education systems are in big trouble.
An annual survey of twelfth-graders, taken by the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research (NCES 2004; Johnston et al. 2005) documented some interesting trends. In 1983, when asked “how often schoolwork is meaningful” 40.2 percent of seniors responded “often or always” and 18.3 percent responded “seldom or never”. However, in 2005, only 27.5 percent responded “often or always” and 28.2 percent responded “seldom or never.” When asked in 1983 “how important school learning will be later in life,” more than half of all the students surveyed responded “quite or very important” and 19.9 percent responded “not or slightly important”; in 2005, 37.1 percent responded “quite or very important” and 28.8 percent responded “not or slightly important.”
The only surprising thing about these trends is that many of those who make decisions affecting school curriculum are surprised. When facts relating to the number of students that attend and graduate from Universities are studied, then these trends of declining interest and faith in education should become more obvious. Current trends of student populations in the US that graduate from high school and continue on to graduate from a university are only at about 23 percent. Generally speaking, the number of students that graduate from universities matches or exceeds that which is needed in the workforce. Of course there are specific areas of need where this not the case. However, this would strongly suggest that the amount and method of teaching the “core” to almost 80 percent of the population may actually be inappropriate and unethical. Learning English, Math, and Science is good and necessary, but is a constant immersion in these courses, using today’s methods of teaching, the only path to success and future employment opportunities? Can ICT courses (Information, Communication Technology) be a part of the core curriculum or vis-a-vis?
A recent report from the National Center for Education statistics, “Special Analysis 2007: High school course taking,” stated: “From the early 1980s, when states began to increase the number of courses required to receive a high school diploma, the average number of credits earned by high school graduates increased from 21.7 credits in 1982 to 25.8 credits in 2004” (NCES 2007). In William Wragga’s article-Toward a Connected Core Curriculum- he states that “The analysis indicates that these increases occurred in academic courses; during the same period, enrollment in vocational courses declined” (Wragga, 2009). Many ICT courses are elective courses in the US school system. The push for more “core” is beginning to have negative effects on class sizes for all elective courses, including ICT courses .
One option is to create an integrated core curriculum which organizes educational experiences around common personal and social problems, with subject matter introduced only as it relates to particular problems that one might encounter in real life situations. Some educators refer to this type of education as “Applied Education”.
One possible solution is to use common computer software, and integrate a curriculum that can take advantage of many disciplines. For example, teach students math by using spreadsheet applications from industry, such as Micro Soft Excel. Many firms in the field of Construction Management use this type of software to estimate volumes, measurements, and costs of structures in the heavy civil and heavy commercial building industry. Integrating curriculum could cover several courses; Math, Technology education, Family Science, Construction technology, and personal finance, and could be taught by teachers in these various disciplines. ICT courses can include a broad range of subject matter and methods. Some teaching methods include but are not limited to: research papers, oral and technical presentations of research, and the development of communication skills using technology. With this type of variety it seems quite possible that ICT courses could integrate a fair amount of core curriculum into the course. All of the possibilities go beyond the scope of this paper, but should be given serious reflection by educational administrators.
A common problem of using an integrated approach arises when we train our teachers to disaggregate curriculum to a point where many teachers have very little experience with practical application. When teaching university courses I have found that very few students have the slightest understanding of how to apply their math skills in the applications that I teach for Estimating and Bidding. For example, basic geometry is taught to builders when squaring large buildings, or figuring roofing materials from areas with varying pitches. Yet, many university students that I have taught have felt that this commonly used math was completely useless outside of trying to get a good grade in the math class. Consequently, I find that I am re-teaching basic math concepts to students who have completed math courses through calculus.
This paper will focus on the popular educational “trends” of today, compared to educational facts that strongly suggest an applied educational focus in non-traditional core subjects such as ICT courses is where positive answers can be found, especially as those applications can be easily linked to quickly evolving technologies in our modern world. I will also emphasize the ethical implications of governments that perpetuate an attitude that narrows the definition of core curriculum into disaggregated subject matter that can only be covered in courses specific to that particular subject.
Johnston, L.D., J.G. Bachman, P.M. O’Malley, and J.E.Schulenberg. 2005 Monitoring the Future: A Continuing Study of American Youth (12th-grade survey). Conducted by University of Michigan, Institute for Social Research, Survey Research Center. ICPSR04536-v3. Ann Arbor, Mich: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (producer and distributer). 2007-07-18
National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). 2007. “Special Analysis 2007. High School course taking.” Downloaded from http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/2007/analysis/sa02b.asp on August 2007
National Center for education Statistics (NECS) 2004. “12 graders’ Effort and Interest in School” Downloaded from http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/2002/section3/tables/t18_la.asp on 12 August 2004
No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Public Law 107-110, 115 U.S. Statutes at Large 1425 (2002)
Wraga, William G. 2009. Toward a Connected Core Curriculum. Education Horizon 87 no2 Winter