Localization and Relevance

“Localization” has been defined by Taylor as “...freedom for schools or local education authorities to adapt this curriculum to local conditions,” (2004; 2), and “...relating the content of the curriculum and the processes of teaching and learning to the local environment” (2004; 3). This flexibility in adapting the program of education for students to local conditions, often away from the capital city and urban population centers is a direct response to traditional curriculum design, which Taylor has described as “...too full, rigid, inflexible and irrelevant to lives of learners” (2004; 2). This idea of relevance is critical to the understanding of localization and the policy planners who have been active promoters. Taking into account the “...cultural and socio-economic realities” (UNESCO, 2002; 31) of local populations when designing educational content is critical in engaging these students in the learning process. A crucial failing of educational systems, worldwide has been their lack of relevance to the lives of learners. This lack of relevance weakens the mentioned connection and bond between communities, learners, and schools; and thus damages educational outcomes through decreased student, community, and teacher engagement in the learning process. Miller notes:

It is believed that by making learning in school relevant and meaningful to the children’s everyday lives      and needs, the interaction between child and school will become a more active and enriching experience, rather than a passive, tiring, or alienating experience for the child (1995; 2).

Taylor and Mulhall additionally note:

It is suggested that contextualization of teaching and learning can strengthen the links between the learning environments of school, home and community. This can be achieved by building on pupils’ experiencesfrom outside the school and providing additional experience within the school program. This process is enhanced through the use of metaphors and analogies, which allow children to integrate their own learning experiences.” (1997; 11).

Curriculum Localization-Rationale

Thus, we can see a logical progression in the decentralization, or “localization,” of this vital area of educational delivery, namely, of school curricula. In giving schools additional autonomy and subsequent responsibility (Elmore, 34) that decentralization demands, and increasing, or strengthening, the link between local communities and school curricula, we can predict that schooling outcomes will be reasonably improved (while, of course, understanding that this is just one, albeit crucial, link in a long chain of needed school reforms in the developing world).

Enhancing the quality of educational delivery is the ultimate goal and rationale behind curriculum localization and the localization of schooling materials. UNESCO notes, “A crucial dimension of quality education is that of relevance of curricula content; the diversity of local (sub national), cultural, and socio-economic realities” (2002; 13).

A key factor driving the localization of school curricula and the localization of schooling content is the ethnic and linguistic diversity of many nations. This diversity must be taken into account when designing school lessons, both in terms of local relevance and in terms of linguistic delivery, to create the vital links previously mentioned between learner and materials (UNESCO, 2002; 34). This local delivery must be “...associated with the natural environment, social environment, as well as the cultural and environmental needs of the region” (Thesia, 2012; 1).

This desire for developing nations to preserve their cultures, while modernizing and integrating with the global economy, is seen as a common factor behind the localization of segments of national school curricula. There has been, “...a preoccupation with developing curricula fostering respect for, and preservation of, cultural traditions and indigenous values and ways of life...” (Byron, 1999; 2). The ultimate goal in this localization has been for “teachers (to) become owners of the curricula and more enthusiastic about its implementation” (Cowley and Williamson, 1998; 81).

Curriculum Localization: The Results

As an answer to these questions posed, many nations in the developing and developed world have decided to “hand over” a portion of their national school curricula to local districts and local communities, in order to tie local realities into the learning process. This “local curriculum” commonly comprises approximately 20% of the national school curriculum in many of the countries that have begun such implementation. While the process of implementation varies across nations, the basic premise holds: a significant percentage of instructional design has been handed over to localized input from national governments and national ministries of education in the hopes of achieving the mentioned goals of localization. Local regions and communities are tasked with identifying topics of local importance and incorporating these into the school plan (Dhorsan and Chachualo, 2008; 200).

As noted by Ruiz de Forsburg and Borges Mansson, “The LC (local curriculum) introduces content that is relevant at the local level to meet local learning needs and develop life skills, attitudes, and values” (10), in addition to “acquiring those life skills, attitudes, and values that enable full participation in the political, social, and cultural life of their communities...” (15).

Tightly bound into the theme of curriculum localization and its related increases in autonomy both at the individual teacher level and at the broader school level, is the issue of additional responsibility being transferred from the traditionally centralized educational hierarchy to these local levels, reversing situations in which there is “...usually little freedom for schools or local education authorities to adapt this curriculum to local conditions” (Taylor, 2004; 1).

Failings of Localization

Actual implementation is seldom simple or effective. Taylor notes, “Admittedly, such practice depends a great deal on the capacity and interest of individual teachers, since national education systems seem rarely able to support the development of such abilities on a large scale” (2004; 3). Often, the actual individuals charged with the implementation of reform are not those consulted in policy formulation. This, I will highlight, is the critical misstep in localization, one that has cost multiple programs any chance at success both in the localization of school content and in the scaling up of localized educational projects. Joshua Muskin notes, “...the solutions to the challenges of reform will be found first and foremost at the level of the teacher in her or his classroom” (7).

In isolating this variable of implementation in educational reform processes, it is crucial to remember that “...reform should also be demand-driven. The people affected by reform not only should want change, but must also want to change” (Healey and DeStefano 1997; 1). This theory of change will be investigated more fully in the next section of this paper; yet, we must remember the critical input that individual teachers put into the reform process, which again, is often critically overlooked by policy planners. In the absence of this desire for change by educators, the authors note, “...efforts need to be undertaken to generate (them)...” (1). Thus, “local demand...and ownership” (Healey and Destafano, 1), must be exhibited by those at the front-line of reform for the reform to be ultimately sustained and scaled; the absence of these critical variables will inevitably lead to failed reforms. Williamson and Cowley state that, “...there is no point in forcing innovation or change on teachers if they are not open to new ideas or changes” (1995; 90).

Other critical failings have been seen in the implementation of localization policy. These failings have largely pointed to: “...Lack of competent staff...lack of funding; resistance from teachers; Constraints of university entrance exams...” (UNESCO, 2002; 31); in addition to a “...failure to involve key stakeholders...(and)...the inadequate preparation of principles and teachers for curriculum change...” (Byron 3). As UNESCO notes, “One of the practical implications of developing a local curriculum is to presume that at the local level competent staff will be available to carry out the tasks...” (2002; 35), we need to question to abilities of individuals at the front line to have the capacity for internalizing change and enacting the reform handed down from the higher levels of government.

Additionally, and crucially, the desire for policy experts to create homogenous solutions for problems that remain, in essence, individual in nature due to the individualized responsibility for implementation, is fertile grounds for failure. As Muskin notes, “...each individual teaching context is different...” (2). Attention must be given to the individuals tasked with localization, the teachers and community members who are charged with these additional responsibilities. Furthermore, Williamson and Cowley note that:

It is important that any plan or strategy for innovation or curriculum development is open to change in order to fit the local context. It is also important that teachers can commit to the innovation in their own time- frame...Forcing teachers to commit to innovation or change may cause them to become hostile to the change. (90).

Critical attention must be paid to those individuals who are tasked with implementation; their ability to change and adapt to this new localization policy is paramount. These individuals must internalize this change, and be willing and open to take on the additional responsibilities, or the process will be stalled. How, exactly, this change must take place must be further investigated. 

Works Cited

Byron, P. “An Overview of Country Reports on Curriculum Development in South and South-East Asia.” Retrieved from: UNESCO Regional Asian Network, November 20, 2000.

Dhorsan, Adelaide and Chachualo, Albertina. “The Local Curriculum in Mozambique: The Santa Rita Community School in Xinavane.” Prospects, Vol. 38, 2008. Pp. 199-213.

Healey, Henry and DeStefano, Joseph. “Education Reform Support: A Framework for Scaling Up School Reform.” From: “USAID: Advancing Basic Education and Literacy Project.” June, 1997. Washington D.C.

Miller, E. “The Childscope Approach: A Handbook for Improving Primary Education Through Local Initiative.” Geneva: UNICEF, 1995.

Muskin, Joshua. "Keynote Speech." Speech. 16th Annual ILearn Conference and 13th Youth Summit. Morocco, Al Akhawayn University. 20 June 2009. Gender Center. Web. 20 June 2012. <gendercenter.fhi360.org/Publications/.../iEARNKeynote.pdf>.

Taylor, Peter. “How can Participatory Processes of Curriculum Development Impact on the Quality of Teaching and Learning in Developing Countries?” From: “UNESCO: Background Paper for the Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2005: The Quality Imperative.” Geneva: UNESCO, 2005.

Taylor, P. and Mulhall, A. “Contextualizing Teaching and Learning in Rural Primary Schools: Using Agricultural Experience, Vols. I & II.” Education Research, No. 20, 1997. London: DFID.

Thesia, Agustina, "Tribal Leaders Perspective: Local Curriculum and Its Impact on Preventing the Silence of Culture in West Papua." Thesis. School of International Training, 2012. Print.

UNESCO Asia/Pacific. “Building the Capacities of Curriculum Specialists for Educational Reform.” (Final Report of the Regional Seminar: Vientiane, Laos 2002). Bangkok: UNESCO, 2002.