September 8, 2016 8 min to read

Interest-Based Curriculum

Category : Pedagogy

Author: Mr Premjith, MERiTrac
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Learning is the process of attaining, reinforcing or altering existing knowledge, skills, ability, personality and behaviour through study, experiences or by being taught on specific areas. It is a continuous process that begins at birth and carries on until death. Learning can be a result of conscious effort or may occur without conscious awareness. It leads to different degrees of enablement among individuals. At the intellectual extreme, it can be perceived as a journey in search of truth. It is also a weapon to improve human life by developing knowledge and abilities. At a more pragmatic level, it helps the individual become employable and the world meet its workforce needs through skilled manpower. While learning is about empowerment, for young kids, it is believed that there is a need for a curriculum that defines what one should learn at different stages in their life.

Curriculum is a sketch of proposed content and process goals that are developed based on planned set of learning objectives, defined for different grades to be attained at particular points in time throughout education. This is an important element of education and goes a long way in defining successful attainment of learning objectives. The purpose of a sound curriculum is to help education be a platform to build successful learners who can be responsible citizens positively contributing to the society. There are different forms of curriculum development like subject-centered curriculum, learner-centered curriculum, Interest-based curriculum, problem-centered curriculum etc. Currently most educational institutions have a standardized curriculum for its students for primary, secondary or higher secondary programs. Every form of curriculum has its own advantages and disadvantages. While subject-centered curriculum focuses on traditional disciplines and follows textbooks on various topics, the problem-centred curriculum or problem-based learning organize subject matter around a problem that needs to be solved. The learner based curriculum on the other hand focuses on aspects of learner’s interest and their experiences. The learner based or interest based model deems that the learners are the experts who are best placed to know what they need. This form considers the learner as an individual who engages with his or her environment actively. This school of thought emphasises on the learner’s interests and motivations as a key to curriculum formation.

The premise of interest-based curriculum or learning is that when the pupil has an interest in something it becomes easy and rather enjoyable to learn that topic. My son, when he was a toddler liked the earth mover toy. He would notice an earth mover toy in any toy shop we went to and was attracted by it at construction sites. As he grew up, he started showing interest in moving vehicles like cars and sports bikes. At this stage, the scaled models of popular cars and books with photos of automobiles acted as his ‘pacifiers’. He had not learned to read and write but he was so fascinated by some of these cars that he would quickly notice a BMW, a Mercedes, an Audi or a Range Rower on the roads before anyone else would. Later his interest shifted to sports. Like most kids of that age, videos and gaming became his favourite pass time. He would know the emerging players of tier-two teams playing league football in England, Spain, Germany and Italy.

A nephew of mine loved cricket. He used to follow the Indian Premier League and other international cricket tournaments. He also played the game along with his friends in their local community. I was surprised to note how quickly he learned to add, subtract, multiply and divide as he had to total scores, calculate the runs required to win, the run rate etc. All these when he was around six or seven years old and with limited teaching intervention. Individuals, even as children are able to learn so much about things that interest them.

Imagine teaching these as a part of curriculum in classrooms using prescribed text books and the conventional pedagogy! The teacher will have to attract the student’s attention before they teach them these topics. Students on their part are expected to memorize information and learn subject matter that can be perceived as unexciting. To add to this, classroom activities and homework are mostly viewed as tasks that are enforced upon students.

Children learn best when they are interested and engaged. Even in the Gurukul system of education, we can assume that the objective was to prepare the pupil for life and s/he learned what interested him / her the most. With years of close association with the pupil, the teacher knew their interests and motivations and was able to personalize teaching.
There is no doubt the effectiveness of interest-based curriculum and learning. If interest- based curriculum and learning is such a sound approach, does that mean that it is the children who should decide the curriculum? That probably is not the best idea. While designing interest-based curriculum, there are some pertinent questions that need answers.

How would a teacher cater to individual interests of so many students they teach?
Children’s interests are based on experiences they are exposed to. If teachers were to rely on a child’s limited interests, there will be a dearth of ideas and interests that can be worked upon.
Children will have diverse interests at different timeframes. Teachers will not be effective if they blindly follow the interests of children. Teachers have to be selective in deciding which interest they would want to leverage and include in their curriculum.

At what age groups would you follow interest based curriculum? Is it only in the early childhood or is there a scope of expanding it to adult education as well.
Role of pedagogy and technology in making this learning experience personalised and effective.
Use of standardised assessments to measure learning effectiveness
Building the right curriculum is the responsibility to educators who understand what should be learned; when and how. As educators, it is important to build the right balance between forcing a curriculum on students and blindly following their interests.
The best practices in implementing Interest-Based Learning involve the following steps:

It is important to understand interests among children and use it as a source of inspiration to build curriculum; not just follow it. Children’s interest should form the basis of a lot that we would want to do in our teaching process. This would help educators and children to together leverage and convert interest to an effective learning experience. Children’s interest ideally should be one among the many important sources of inspiration for curriculum design. This interest should be married well with what educators believe are priorities for students to learn at various stages in their lives.

Infusing news interests or expanding the current scope of interest is important in making learning holistic. As mentioned earlier, children have limited exposure and will be interested only in things they are exposed to. Restricting teaching to what children are currently interested in will lead to limited interests to draw upon thereby limiting the scope of learning too. Most children are not bothered about the source of ideas for developing interest. As educators, it important to infuse new ideas and interests or extend current ones for meaningful learning. There are many basic foundations that are important for students to develop, but rarely come up as interests. For example, the initiative of Swachh Bharat is about keeping the surroundings clean. It is flawed to imagine that cleanliness will appear as a natural interest among children. It is important for educators to develop these interests that insist on some of the important aspects in human life. Respect, cleanliness, road safety, nationalism are some of the areas where interest has to be created in students.

Prioritising interests is key to effective interest-based learning. It is quite normal in today’s lifestyle for children to have varied interest with a far lesser shelf life than before. Educators have to be selective in leveraging children’s interests effectively. Every child’s interest cannot be addressed at once. Educators should identify and develop interests that are important rather than working on every passing interest. To add to this, not all interests are relevant and offer possibilities for learning. Success depends on understanding the scope of interests and deciding how to respond to it. Some interests need to be immediately addressed, a few will need an extension, others need to be postponed and there will be some that might not be worth pursuing.

Managing individual interests and group interest is particularly a big challenge when one addresses larger groups. One has to combine multiple interests of students to develop a meaningful curriculum and yet give individual child the attention to address their interest. In such a case, it is very important to involve the parents / guardians or other stakeholders as well to ensure that the child’s interest is not ignored and is developed as a lesson. Communicating and training these stakeholders is an important aspect that educators must involve in.

Assessments play a critical role in learning. Developing the right kind of assessments is important in fostering development of interests and make the learning process more effective. How will educators develop assessments for learning for different interests is an important consideration while designing curriculum. Designing assessments for learning will help the students engage and learn better through assessments.

Role of technology and gadgets cannot be ignored in the context of interest-based curriculum and learning. Most millennials today are far more technology savvy than their elders. It is also true that these technologies and gadgets are the future. One has to be clear of how technology can be leveraged to foster interests and learning in children. Immersive learning with the help of games and videos are already used as some of the most valuable resources. Being selective about the content that is available for children and identifying what interests can be fostered using technology are the key decisions that educators have to take in today’s world.

Interests play a very important part in learning. Using children’s interests as the basis for curriculum decision making helps to ensure that learning is not only interesting but also meaningful and relevant to children. Developing and doing justice to interest-based curriculum and learning needs empowerment of educators to fine-tune curriculum to suite the learners.

The capacity to learn is a gift, the ability to learn is a skill, the willingness to learn is a choice.
Brian Herbert
What we learn with pleasure, we never forget
Alfred Mercier
…interest definitely has a serious role to play in learning.

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