This unit, explains various forms of designs by which curriculum has been fashioned out. The designs range from subject centred, discipline centred, broad field progressive or learner centred to problem centred. You as a teacher need to familiarise yourself with these designs



Curriculum design is the arrangement of the components or elements of a curriculum which may also be referred to as curriculum organization i.e. it is the nature f elements present in a curriculum and the patterns or organization in which they are brought together.

According to Saylor and Alexander (1974) design is the element that makes a difference between one curriculum from another. This is because it is a particular shape, framework or pattern of learning opportunities; thus for an y particular population, the scope and type of learning opportunities identify a curriculum design.

Since the opportunities are difficult to provide at once and since they lack the permanent structure of a building or the texture and the colour of a dress the design is not usually visualized rapidly. The key features of curriculum designs are:

(a) their pattern of content organization

(b) activities organization

(c) areas of living organization

However, the most prominent feature of curriculum is its pattern of content organization. This is because we cannot deny that content or subject matter is an important element in the curriculum design. However, all the activities and experiences that go along with them must be purposeful.

Curriculum designers must have the following at the back of their minds: scope, sequence, continuity and integration to have a good design at the end of the day. Curriculum design may be considered along

(1) subject centred design (2) learner-centred design and (3) problem-centred design (Udoh, 1992).

3.2 Subject-Centred Designs

(a) The Subject-Design

It is traditional since most schools organize their curriculum along this design. Majority of teachers passed through this in their schools especially at primary and post primary levels and they find it difficult to change.

Nicholls and Nicholls (1978) wrote that in vast majority of schools, the curriculum is organized on a subject basis, but teachers may hold different views about the value of subject-matter. In this design, the curriculum is organized into a variable number of subjects each of which represents a unique and homogeneous body of content.

Since there is knowledge explosion, men have sought to classify knowledge in order to facilitate study and research, but they seldom do so with the thought of teaching others. Attempts to deal with the quantitative aspects of the environment, for example, led to he discovery of many facts as well as principles which we regard as mathematics and when it grew out of practical need of man for number, knowledge relationship and a way to describe them, we label it subject, while classics was described for culture.

Other names for this design is, the separate-subject curriculum, subject matter curriculum and the scientific subjects curriculum. This design is common in primary and secondary schools.

Here, students are made to study bits of each subject in each school day and little regard is paid to the interrelationship of the school subjects. For example, teaching health education/science is taught without reference to family living, Physical Education, Home Economics and Agricultural Science i.e. Health Science is taught as a separate subject by itself.


(i) The acceptance of the Brunerian contention that a child’s cognitive functioning is essentially the same as the adult scholar, it differs in matter of degree.

(ii) The belief that the major role of the school is to transmit the cultural heritage from generation to generation and that most significant parts of the heritage can be grouped into parts , or “subjects”.

(iii) The belief or notion that each subject has an internal order which can be presented from simple to complex.

(iv) The assumption that this organization is such that will enable the students to develop the capacit y to deal with the culture as he/she meets it.

(v) That an authoritarian presentation is superior to a democratic approach.

(vi) The belief that this pattern has stood the test of time and hence has merit. It provides security for the teacher, the learner and the parents because of its time-honoured status.


(i) Learning a subject is based upon language activities – talking, listening, writing, reading. Hence, it is expository in nature.

(ii) Adults select and organize the content before it is presented to the learners.

(iii) The content is universally true and hence is not affected by the local situation.

(iv) Each subject is in its own “a compartment” with little genuine concern for things outside its walls.

(v) Emphasis is on the processes of absorption and memorization. Methodology will include considerable drill to establish the content in the learners mind.


(i) Since it is systematically arranged, it is an effective organization for bequeathing the important societal cultural heritage on the learners i.e. youths.

(ii) As stated before, most teachers passed through this type of design, as a result it will make their jobs easier.

(iii) It is acceptable by parents since they also passed through it.

(iv) Its organization from simple to complex makes it easy to administer.


(i) Due to knowledge explosion, there is an increase in fragmentation of knowledge and adding of more subjects to the school offerings. This makes the teachers to be less confident in their ability to handle the subject. To give attention to different subjects, it means the school’s day time will be broken down the more.

(ii) There is little or no regard for individual differences among learners and it seems it is detached from happenings in the real world.

(iii) The misconception about the subject-centred approach is that learning the information presented will eventually transfer to life situations which some psychologists have about, serious doubt as the likelihood of transfer of learning when knowledge is broken down into discrete parts.

(iv) In most cases, the inter st of the learner is not taken into consideration which is gainst the psychological stand that learners’ interest affects learning.

(v) Rote memorization is encouraged rather than the process of thinking and as a result it is not an efficient arrangement of the curriculum for learning and use.

(vi) It encourages passive learning and structured knowledge.

The Discipline Design

This is the arrangement of organized knowledge for instruction by men of knowledge who command respect among academic colleagues and possess authority in their fields of endeavour. It is considered to be one of the traditional academic area of inquiry and commonly used in higher or tertiary institutions like Colleges of Education, Polytechnics and Universities. Hence we have disciplines like Physical Education, Health Education, Mathematics, Economics, Chemistry, Geograph y, Philosophy, Psychology, Agriculture etc.


(i) It is more systematic and effectively organized than the subject designer in the transmission of societal cultural heritage.

(ii) It gives room for rational thinking on the part of the learner.


(i) There is still problem of non integration of knowledge since the learners are presented with “bit by bit” curriculum.

(ii) Interest and experiences of learners are inadequately taken care of.

(iii) It is more academic and intellectual in nature and as such not an efficient way for learning and use.

Generally, on knowledge and disciplines Lawton (1975) wrote that to answer “Why disciplines, or why different forms of knowledge?” four answers may be examined:

(a) Disciplines justified in terms of the nature of reality, to him, a naïve realist point of view is that world exists ‘out there’, with certain fixed characteristics, and man’s search for knowledge is a simple cumulative process of gradually uncovering more and more of “Nat ure’s Secrets”.

This might be described as the man-in-the street or common sense of view of reality. Many scientists are of the opinion that knowledge is a comp lex process of puzzle-solving within theoretical framework and many social scientists see human contributions by way of theories and ideologies, there is even greater difficulties in accepting the above picture.

Authentic disciplines can then be equated to the dishing out orders of reality and making known of the paths by which learners may come to realize truth in their own being and b y this, the disciplines are viewed as the sole proper source of the curriculum.

(b) Different disciplines ask different questions and make different kinds of statement e.g. the ‘size’/shape will be seen by a geolo gist who might be interested in the rock formations, a historian analysis is important in the rock formations or a health educator who might be interested in the food pattern, exercises and diseases of people living in the area. With this, schools have often only succeeded in differentiating between disciplines at the cost of ignoring the relationship between them which must not be so.

(c) Disciplines and the nature of children’s development – This postulates that children can better learn through basing curriculum on disciplines having the work of Piaget at the back of the mind where he said that the process by which children classify experience is not simply the result of the social norms of the culture they happen to be born into: there is something in human mental structure that facilitates certain kinds of conceptualization.

However, a child’s development is neither simply a matter of socialization into cultural norms nor is it a question of automatic maturation but a very complex process of the interaction of a developing child with the social and physical environment.

So, important distinctions need to be made between the logical ordering of a particular discipline and the “natural” psychological development of the child.

(d) Disciplines and efficient learning – This is a psychological argument different from what you have been reading in b and c, though there are overlappings. Simplification of understanding of knowledge, through structure is very important in this aspect of our discussion.

The Broad Field Design

This is out to cater for fragmentation of knowledge which the subject and discipline designs are accused of. Here, related subject matters are grouped together and organized with emphasis on large fields or areas rather than on separate subjects.

Language Arts may have topics on spellings, reading, language-grammar, – oral communication and literature under it, while Integrated Science topics may have Health Science, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Home Economics, Agricultural Science under it.


(i) It presents to the learner in an orderly and systematic experience the society’s cultural heritage and values.

(ii) It integrates different subjects that are related together and so presents a harmonious package to the learner.


(i) It tends to make teachers master of “all subjects”.

(ii) If a teacher trained in one field is made to handle the subject, his/her major interest may dominate the topics covered or well explained to learners.

 The Progressive or Learner-Centred Design

According to Dewey, instead of the society fitting its children to the school curriculum, the curriculum should be tailored to the child’s own experiences, needs and interests. Thus, a child learns how to comb, brush his/her teeth, bathe, because the child needs to have good personal health.

What one is saying here is that the children’s mind should not b e a dumping ground of knowledge which is a teacher-centred curriculum but the knowledge must be one that is carefully selected and tested and of interest and use to the learner. It emphasizes on individualit y or individual developm ent and as a result they are less practicable and place heavy demand on the teacher’s competence.


(i) The interests of the student do facilitate his/her learning. Most interests are socially derived, hence, attention to them makes the programme more life related.

(ii) Finding common interests and working together in terms of those unifying elements afford growth in life related skills.

(iii) The curriculum is flexible.

(iv) Teachers need to know a greater deal about the growth and development of children and youth.

The curriculum organization is from the students’ ability and interest and not from prescribed content which are not pre-planned and these have been its major characteristic.

Here, with emotional involvement of the learner, the whole learning process would become more vivid and hence more valuable. However, for it to be successful, the learners must be active rather than passive, activity must be built along psychological problems rather than around logical topics, the programme must be flexible rather than rigid, democratic rather than authoritarian, must be community oriented and cut across subject lines.

Learner centred designs require a favourable or conducive environment for children to work well and benefit from what they are doing since children come from different homes. The learning environment will also ensure that the learner or the child does the following:

(a) be considerate to other people’s needs.

(b) accepts and operates within the regulations and rules of his/her class but not be timid in giving constructive criticisms on some of them.

(c) shows sign of self discipline and inquisitive mind

(d) recognizes his/her limits and capabilities. All the above can only be achieved through the guidance of a well experienced, and trained teacher.

Since this design, placed much demand on teachers, it is more popular in literature than in actual practice. The three examples of learner-centred designs are the activities/experience design, open classroom and humanistic design education.

Te commonest among the them is the activities/experience design whi h Rousseau and Pestalozzi are best exponents. In this design, childre n are kept busy all the time with one interesting work and going to another after finishing the first according to the learners’ needs and interests.

But, this has to take place in a type of environment discussed earlier which is good but very tasking because the teacher is in the dilemma of differentiating between “genuine” needs and interests and whims and fancies of the learners.

For this not to be theoretical on pages of texts, more researches need to be done, but we ask: do we need general interests of learners of certain groups? If yes, it is learner-centred again i.e. where is the individualit y in it? If not, what is the option?


(i) Since activities and processes take much of its totality, it is often criticized for its lack of content. However, this is an oversight because it got its knowledge from almost all spheres of human knowledge.

(ii) Students who exclude what does not interest them now may come across them in future.

(iii) Its lack of definite sequence, scope and organization pattern.

(iv) The design demands an extraordinary teacher whose knowledge is very wide in virtually all the fields of endeavour; however, few teachers are trained for this.

(v) Most schools ’ textbooks and teaching materials are not t ailored to this design.

(vi) The cost of running this design is enormous.

(vii) Writing, word recognition and numeracy can only be mastered by systematic practice.


(i) Learning is relevant to the learners’ needs, which makes it meaningful and real.

(ii) The problem solving activities will enable learners to face similar situations in real life.

To justify this design, Taba (1962) wrote that: People learn only what they experience. Only that learning which is related to active purposes and is rooted in experience translates itself into behavioural changes. Children learn best those things that are attached to solving actual problems that help them in meeting real needs or that connect with some active interest.

Learning in its true sense is an active transaction. Childhood has a meaning and value in itself, apart from its value as a step on the way to maturity. The better the child, that is, the truer he is to his child nature, as such, the better man will he make when the proper time comes. (John Adams, Evolution of Educational Theory, 1915 ).

 Problem-Centred Designs

Problem-centred designs is like the learner-centred ones developed in man’s centred, philosophical assumptions with their structures based on democracy with emphasis on group welfare (man is neutral).

The designs’ area of focus is the problem of individual and social problems of living which are very general, broad and all embracing.

With an all embracing organization, its coverage are contemporar y issues-socio-geopolitics, areas of living, life situations, social concerns of youths, socio-economic reconstruction of society like the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), AIDS/HI V, environmental related issues and community health.

As can be clearly seen, what distinguishes it from other designs is the emphasis placed on group welfare i.e. social needs rather than individuals or the relative degree of emphasis they place on individuals as opposed to social needs.


(i) They are essentially prior-planned or fore-planned but there is room for flexibility to build in necessary developments that might affect the learners .

(ii) They stress both the content and the learners’ development by taking their needs, abilities, interest into consideration through scope and sequence.

(a) The Area of Living Design: Herbert Spencer’s essay (1885), stated that the curriculum should tailor learners to function effectively in the five basic societies of the world which areas of living that affect all known are:

(i) direct self-preservation

(ii) indirect self-preservation (e.g. getting food, shelter, clothing etc).

(iii) parenthood

(iv) citizenship and

(v) leisure activities all of which are not in place in a subject design curriculum. This can be regarded as the earliest movement towards this design.

Taba (1962) wrote that: Organising the curriculum around the activities of mankind will not only bring about a needed unification of knowledge but will also permit such a curriculum to be of maximum value to students’ day-to-day life, as well as to prepare them for participation in a culture.

The above, together with the work of Herbert Spencer earlier mentioned, can and will continue to guide and motivate this type of design admirers. Its outstanding feature is the organization of traditional subject matter around areas of living and it is also its dilemma because of the determination of the essential areas of living that will constitute the organizing principles of the curriculum.


(i) It is a pre-planned reorganization of content that cuts across traditional subject matter lines.

(ii) It focuses on problem solving methods of learning i.e. discouraging passive information but integrating process objectives like skills analysis, human relation skills as well as content objectives.
(iii) The experiences and prevailing situations of learners are utilized as an initial step towards learning.

(iv) Ability to bring learners interest and curriculum goals into the closet functional relationship, thereby making the learners relevant to the societal needs.

(v) Subject matters are presented in a useful form which makes it relevant by transforming content to knowledge which the learners internalized.


(i) Inability to thoroughly determine its scope and sequence.
(ii) Lack of integration and continuity.

(iii) Inadequate exposure of learners to the societal cultural heritage.

(iv) Since learners learn mostly about current appealing issues, the learners might not be futuristic in outlook or be conservative.


(i) Majority of teachers are not trained along this design and its implementation might prove difficult for them.

(ii) Parents are likely to resist the designs they themselves have not gone through.

(iii) Scarcity of books and other teaching-learning materials produced along this design.

(b) The Core Design

Movements against separate subjects curriculum with fragmentation of knowledge and a call for a coherence of the total curriculum led to the clamouring for a unifying core of studies which the other subjects wou ld be related and subordinate.


(i) It comprises all the parts of the curriculum that teach the needed concepts skills and attitudes needed by the learners to function well in the society i.e. it has the intention of providing common learning or general education.

(ii) Employing a block of time consisting of two or more periods for teaching the core component. This block-time class is just an administrative way which does not greatly affect curriculum design.
There are different types of core curricula which are:

(a) The Separate Subject Core – This consists of a series of required individual subjects taught separately by subject matter specialists. Since it does not legitimately represent a distinct curriculum design and makes no provision for the integration of content, it cannot be properly addressed as core curriculum. It is just another device of the subject curriculum which we have discussed about before.

(b) The Correlated Core – It is deeply rooted in the subject-centred tradition. It aims to provide common learning in a more coherent form by showin g the relationships between the two or more subjects included in the core.

(c) The Fused Core – Also rooted in the subject-centred tradition, it is based on the integration or ‘combination’ of two or more separate subjects. History, Economics, Sociology, Political Science may be fused and taught as Social Studies while Physics, Botany, Geology, Chemistr y, Zoology can be combined together and taught as General Science. With this, it looks more of a segment/part of broad fields than core design.

(d) The Activity/Experience Core – It bases ultimate curriculum content and organization on the classroom planning and decision making of learners and teachers. It is normally taught in an extended block time class and embedded in the learners’ interest.

(e) The Areas of Living Core – It is regarded as the authentic core design because it is

• problem centred rather than subject centred
• essentially preplanned

• considers the common needs, problems of the learners

• make provision for student-teacher planning

• Practicum in health education course can fix into it.

Finally, on curriculum designs, – the possibility of getting a variety of opinions and answers to the multifaceted questions. The following opinion will clarify many issues:

The way a curriculum is conceptualized in theory and then designed, organized and developed for practical implementation depends on a country’s particular philosophy of education, on its national, social, cultural, economic, developmental aspirations, on where it considers the main stream of emphasis should lie.

Should cultural and societal needs or the demands for economic development determine the nature of the curriculum?

Should the curriculum be geared to the interests of the child or should it be based on the disciplines of knowledge?

Should the emphasis be on generalism or on specialism?

Should there be a common curriculum for all students or should there be different curricula for different students?

How much emphasis should be given to psychological and pedagogical considerations, such as learning theory, methodology; how much to situational (local) c onsiderations, e.g. urban, rural, ethnic, community schools? Depending on one’s answer to such basic questions of curriculum as to what should be taught, why, to whom, in what manner (i.e. how), where, will our conceptualization of the pattern of curriculum take shape?


Whatever the educational administrators, planners, managers, experts, teachers, students, think about education, it is basic that we can’t solely rely on one curriculum design. However, in deciding the curriculum design to use at any stage, the guiding objectives must be well stated, incorporated and at the end evaluated, to see how far we have been successful.

 Source: School of Education, National Open University of Nigeria


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