WHAT we have shared about curriculum is that it has been defined in myriad ways, but all these can be classified as either being prescriptive or descriptive, or a mix of these perspectives. We also sought to clarify certain terminologies, since they could shift in meaning.
For instance, the term “course” could mean the degree one is pursuing (such as a Bachelor in Arts, or a Master in Management, or a PhD in Criminal Justice, etc.). Course could also mean a “subject,” a specific area (usually with three credit units, or if with laboratory, could have a total of five credit units) in a set of specific areas that constitute a curriculum (that is a program for an academic degree).
We also shared that a curriculum, particularly a descriptive one, allows more flexibility through an elective system. This means that, depending on their interest or focus, students may choose a limited number of credit units from a set of courses/subjects, referred to as major electives, or as cognates. Likewise, free electives are also available for interests beyond, or outside, the student’s major.
More on ‘courses/subjects’ and formats
Different educational systems use “course” and “subject” interchangeably. In Canada and in the US, a course is usually an “individual ‘subject,” “a unit of teaching that typically lasts one academic term, is led by one or more instructors and has a fixed roster of students.” “Students may receive a grade and academic credit after completion of the course.” Countries with British influence such as “India, Australia and Singapore, as well as parts of Canada, refer to a course as the entire program of studies required to complete a university degree.”
“Unit” or “module” is used to refer to “an academic course as it is referred to in other parts of the world, such as in North America and the rest of Europe.” In South Africa, “a course officially is the collection of all courses” (subjects) – in the American sense, these are often called ‘modules’ – over a year or semester, though the American usage is common.”
In the Philippines, a course can be an individual subject (as used by academics and school officials) or the entire program, such as nursing, law, or business etc. (usually referred to by students and outsiders),” . Courses are conducted usually through lectures. Class interaction is minimal. Other formats of a course are: a Seminar, where students, guided by suggested topics in the syllabus, present their research on the topic, followed by an open forum; or a Colloquium, during which an assigned topic is discussed by assigned teams. Another course format is Tutorial– a one-to-one lecture, discussion of a lecturer with one or several students. Tutorials, in the Philippine setting, are conducted usually when a student in his/her final semester or trimester needs a subject or course, which is not offered during that term.
In British universities where research degrees are offered, there is the Directed Individual Study course. Like a research paper adviser, an academic directs the student in an area of study, which is more concentrated and in-depth than a taught course. A last format is the Laboratory course, where most work takes place in a laboratory.” <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Course_(education)>.
A degree program usually has electives. A student can choose a major from a list of majors leading to a degree program, such as a Bachelor in Business, major in Hotel and Restaurant Management (BB-HRM), or in Accounting; a Master of Arts in Education (MAEd), major in English, or in Music Education; or a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Curriculum.
Besides choices on which major to pursue, the set of subjects/courses for the chosen major has electives. These are “a number of optional subjects/courses” among those in the list of the required subjects/courses for a chosen major. Usually 25 percent of the total credits for the major area are electives. A doctoral degree requiring a total of 60 credit units spreads the 60 to 15 (or 18) for basic (also referred as foundations), 33 (or 30) for the major, and 12 for dissertation.
In a flexible curriculum, 6 to 9 credit units for the major courses/subjects could be chosen from a set of electives known as cognates. However, I find some curricula (very prescriptive), where the major subjects are all required, no breathing space, so to speak.
“Elective courses tend to be more specialized.” On the baccalaureate level, these are usually in the junior or senior year where, usually students are fewer than in the required courses. Medical students may choose an elective that permits them to “experience other cultures, and to learn how to work in clinical situations in other countries https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Course_(education) – cite_note-2.” Enrolment in electives in the major requires students to have taken corresponding prerequisite courses/subjects.<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Course_ (education)>
Kinds and role of electives
Understanding the role of electives maximizes the functionality of a degree program. A flexible curriculum gives the student the freedom to pursue interests that may lie outside his/her major and that “extend beyond those addressed in the foundation subjects/courses.” While foundation courses/subjects are prescribed, a major program may consist of required and major electives. Choice of electives could be on those that “give priority to developing skills and approaches,” or on those that “give priority to the field under investigation.” Besides major electives, there are also cognates and free electives. Cognates can shed further light in a major, such as a course on Japanese Culture for a major in Nihonggo.<
(Next week – influences on a curriculum)