Curriculum Development: Subject-centered design in relation to curriculum design.

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5a i). Discuss subject-centered design in relation to curriculum design.


The concept curriculum design is used in educational literature to refer to the organization of the components of curriculum element. Some people refer to curriculum organizations when they are actually talking of curriculum patterns when they mean curriculum organizations or designs.

Components, which are included in any curriculum design, are aims, goals and objectives, subject-content, learning activities and evaluation. We usually refer to how  all these components are structured in any curriculum as a design.

How a curriculum is conceptualized, organized, developed and implemented depends on particular country’s educational objectives and whatever, design a country may adapt depends also on the country’s philosophy of education.

There are several ways of designing school curriculum.


At the end of this unit you should be able to:

  • Explain the organization of subject centered curriculum design
  • State the advantages and disadvantages of subject-centred design;
  • Describe the meaning of broad fields designs
  • Explain the extent broad field curriculum design as applied in Kenya;

    Subject-Centered Design

The organization of curriculum in terms of separate subjects has far been the commonest all over the world. It is also the oldest school curriculum design in the world.  It was even practiced by the ancient Greek educators. The subject centered design was adapted by African education system from Europe.

For along time content has been arranged in the curriculum by specific subjects representing a specialized body of common areas of content.

An examination of the subject centred and curriculum design will show that it is used mainly in the upper-primary sections, secondary school classes and colleges. This is the commonest organization, which you teachers are familiar with. Frequently, lay people educators and other professionals who support this design received their own schooling or professional training in this system. Teachers, for instance, have been trained and specialized to teach one or two subjects at secondary level in this country. No teachers are trained to teach as many subjects as possible.

You are quite aware of how subjects are organized in our high school syllabus. The whole high school curriculum has been organized around subject areas such as – English, Kiswahili, Geography, History, Christian Education, Economics, Commerce, Mathematics, Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Computer Science, Home Economics etc. This type of curriculum organization is still being used in African schools today.

Let us examine the advantages and disadvantages of this design. We shall be able to see why some educators advocate for it while others criticize this approach.


  • It is possible and desirable to determine in advance what all children will learn in various subjects and grades (classes). For instance syllabus for all schools in Kenya are prepared and approved centrally at the K.I.E for Ministry of Education Science and Technology – The Kenya National Examinations Council is also involved. All the syllabuses are then sent to all the schools in the country irrespective of geographical position, status, resources, manpower available and cultural variations. It is expected that teachers prepare students based on the same syllabus. Students in all the schools cover the same among of content in various subjects sat at the end of every level of education (primary, secondary levels). Students sit for the same examination to determine whether they have covered the amount of content expected of them.
  • It is feasible and necessary to determine minimum standards of performance and achievement for the knowledge specified in the subject area.
  • Almost all textbooks and support materials present on the educational market are organized on subject-by-subject format.
  • Also tradition seems to give the design greater support. People have become familiar and more comfortable with this design and seem to view it as part of the system of the school and education as whole.
  • The subject centred curriculum is better understood by teachers because their training was based on this method as specialization.
  • The advocates of the subject-centred design have argued that intellectual powers of individual learners can be developed through this approach.
  • Curriculum planning is easier and simpler in the subject centred curriculum design. Imagine the period of planning, developing and implementing the curriculum. Also imagine what goes in your first staff meeting when every teacher is to be allocated his/her teaching load for the year and how this should be plotted on the daily school time-table. It is simply and easily achieved at a short time.

    Criticisms of Subject-Centered Design

Critics of subject-centered curriculum design have strongly advocated from it. These criticisms are based on the following arguments:

  • Subject-centered curriculum tends to bring about a high degree of fragmentation. They argue that with the current increase in knowledge more subjects are created and added to the school curriculum as areas of study.
  • Subject-centered curriculum lacks integration of content. Learning in most cases tends to be compartmentalized. Subjects or knowledge are broken down into smaller seemingly unrelated bits of information to be learned.
  • There has always been an assumption that information learned through subject matter-curriculum will be transferred for use in everyday life situations. This assumption of claim has been doubted by many schools of thought that argue that automatic transfer of the information already learned is not possible.
  • The design stresses content and tends to neglect the needs, interests and experience of the students. It is examination oriented.


Activity 18

Why can’t subject-centred curriculum design function at the lower-primary level.


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