5. Lessons learned from embedding values in curriculum

Chapter 1 articulated that, despite the range of values and attitudes that countries/jurisdictions would like to see embedded in student learning, there is a degree of commonality across the categories of personal, social, societal and human values and attitudes seen as desirable. These values and attitudes reflect, by and large, those prioritised by national curriculum frameworks and dominant social groups (e.g. respect, diversity, responsibility, human dignity, tolerance, democracy, equality, integrity, self-awareness, justice). Chapter 2 explored how these attitudes and values are highly relevant for the future and are embedded in subject-specific curriculum, and Chapter 3 explored how students can develop values and attitudes informally and non-formally, outside the formal instruction through curriculum.

The strategies introduced in Chapter 4 (Challenges and strategies in embedding values) are examples of responses from countries/jurisdictions related to addressing the challenges of embedding values in curriculum. While the strategies offer insights, some countries/jurisdictions have reported experiencing outcomes that were not anticipated when implementing these strategies, which added further complexity to embedding values in curriculum.

The following lessons learned are based on actual experiences. The list could be used as a checklist to reflect on the current state of play and to consider whether similar unintended consequences that peer countries/jurisdictions have experienced resonate.

  1. 1. Acknowledge that some values are “caught”, “sought” and “aspired to” – rather than directly “taught”;

  2. 2. Prepare and support schools and teachers to be able to reconcile the tension and dilemmas involved with values and attitudes;

  3. 3. Reassure teachers by preserving the integrity of subject-area content and appropriately addressing values in their learning contexts;

  4. 4. Be aware of risks and opportunities in messaging through social media;

  5. 5. Make conscious efforts to reflect student voice;

  6. 6. Consider not only validity and reliability, but also authenticity, feasibility, sustainability, costs and scalability when assessing attitudes and values.

Chapter 3 (Cultivating positive attitudes and values in a learning ecosystem) illustrated where and how students develop attitudes and values, and Chapter 4 (Challenges and strategies in embedding values) addressed the complexities from embedding values and attitudes in curriculum design to monitoring their place in the experienced curriculum in the classroom. There are growing expectations for schools to address values in curriculum design, to enrich students’ learning experience and their school life as well as life outside and beyond school. A learning-ecosystem approach to curriculum design and implementation is of critical importance because it recognises that curriculum does not occur in a vacuum but needs to reflect the complex inter-relationships of the ecosystem’s components.

The embedding of values in curriculum is a contested space, as it often needs to accommodate political, philosophical and ideological differences. Despite the challenges, countries/jurisdictions are increasingly articulating a specific set of values in their curriculum. They often include, reflect or reinforce values articulated in international declarations, national legislation or in the views of dominant social groups. The intent of such articulation is to promote behaviours that are underpinned by an agreed set of values, to support students to learn to act as responsible citizens within their school community as well as in the wider community.

The broader ecosystem needs to acknowledge that students learn formally, informally and non-formally.1 Students learn inside and outside school, from the interactions that occur in their relationships, with their teachers, peers, parents, and with individuals and social groups within their community. These learnings may not, necessarily, represent a coherent, shared or aligned set of values and attitudes. Indeed, they may be at odds with one another. Students need to learn to evaluate and make sense of values when modelled by those around them as part of their day-to-day interactions inside and outside school. In other words, there are direct and indirect influences on students’ learning in relation to values.

These influences reflect discussion on values being “caught”, “sought”, and “aspired to” rather than directly “taught” (see section on hidden curriculum in Chapter 3). Inevitably, there are values that are implicitly “caught” by students that are not explicitly in lesson plans or explicitly taught by teachers. Teachers and parents often “seek” to foster a certain set of values or seek to cultivate an ethos in school or influence the behaviours at home. Students also often ‘aspire to’ values based on their role models’ behaviours (e.g. peers, elder siblings, parents, teachers).

When implementing subject-specific curriculum that embeds values, teachers need to be culturally responsive and competent to be aware that what they do and how they act, what they talk about, as well as which words they choose to use, can influence their students’ beliefs, values and behaviours. Teachers are not simply transmitters of the curriculum, but rather shapers of their students’ learning, including their mindsets, behaviours, values and attitudes. They are also shapers of their students’ well-being, as their own often-taken-for-granted assumptions and beliefs may be different to those of their learners and could, at times, have unintended consequences for some students. As indicated in Chapter 4, teachers need to be supported to adopt an adaptive and inclusive approach to teaching, in accordance with students’ needs, personal traits, as well as cultural, economic and social backgrounds.

In this regard, teachers are often referred to as “designers” of their students’ learning environment. Therefore, teachers can support students to become self-aware, make sense or find meaning of learning in a wider context in the ecosystem in which they live and learn. In doing so, it is of critical importance for teachers to recognise individual differences among students, in particular, for vulnerable students and students at risk. When it comes to curriculum design, the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) approaches can be considered; for UDL, please see the E2030 curriculum analysis report, Adapting Curriculum to Bridge Equity Gaps: Towards an Inclusive Curriculum (OECD, 2021[1]). This helps students to develop a sense of self-directed learning, which can take place anywhere, anytime, as lifelong learners.

Due to the contested nature of embedding values in curriculum, particularly where communities and schools have varying perspectives on values, some countries/jurisdictions give schools autonomy and flexibility to localise this content, as long as schools comply with national or jurisdictional curriculum frameworks. Localisation of curriculum is not unique to values education, and many country/jurisdiction curricula allow for and encourage the teaching, learning, and assessment of knowledge, skills, attitudes and values to reflect local needs and contexts. Providing schools with agency in relation to what, how, when and where values are taught, learned and assessed supports the reconciliation of tensions and dilemmas between differences in perspectives.

This strategy, however, where responsibility for embedding values in the curriculum is left to the professional judgement of teachers, comes with the risk of making the school or classroom environment less inclusive of values articulated in curricular or national goals. While respecting teacher agency and autonomy in this way, varying outcomes for students may be an unintended consequence.

In addition, teachers may also be faced with alternative views – parents who see the teaching of values as the domain of the family and/or faith settings and not appropriate for schools to address, at least in terms of formal curriculum. Countries reported that values and attitudes in relation to religious beliefs, cultural differences with immigrant and refugee children, and moral and sexual education were areas where contested views occurred. There may be teachers who feel uncomfortable teaching and transmitting values to which they do not necessarily adhere. Anticipating teachers’ needs to reconcile such tension and dilemmas in countries/jurisdictions where teachers are given autonomy, it is critical to prepare and support them through teacher education programmes, professional development activities, and demands-driven support programmes

School leaders also require significant support and guidance in the process of embedding values in the curriculum, both in managing the tensions that may arise and in understanding the extent to which variation in embedding values is appropriate.

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to embedding values in curricula, some key principles highlighted in the literature include:

  • curricula should reflect the complexity represented in the community by their diverse student populations, recognising the contested – political, policy and technical – nature of curriculum discussions and developments (Gay, 1994[2]; Gecan and Mulholland-Glaze, 1993[3]; Cline and Necochea, 1996[4]);

  • schools choose, from core values set in national curriculum, those that are most pertinent in their context (Cline and Necochea, 1996[4]).

More rigorous research is needed to understand how to direct the focus of political, philosophical and ideological discussions back to “what students need to be able to do” and help to reconcile tensions and competing demands among stakeholders. For example, some countries compiled national databases of national and international documents, including those articulating ethical principles, and shared these with the wider public to raise awareness. This stimulated discussions among stakeholders and helped create a shared understanding about attitudes, behaviours and values in their countries. This has also helped to co-ordinate and improve the teaching of ethics, including by supporting schools throughout the country with various pedagogies and methodologies to support values development.

When countries/jurisdictions decide to articulate values in curriculum design, some reported that they created some stand-alone subjects to teach values (e.g. moral education and ethics). However, a common concern is that any addition to the number of subjects impacts on curriculum crowding and takes time away from other subjects.

The concept of competency implies more than just the acquisition of knowledge and skills; it involves the mobilisation of knowledge, skills, attitudes and values to meet complex demands, which in turn contributes to individual development and well-being (Keyes, 2002[5]). A number of countries/jurisdictions use the strategy of embedding values and attitudes as components of core competencies that make up key elements of curriculum frameworks, so that values can be embedded across the curriculum rather than in stand-alone subjects.

Such an approach also helps establish understanding among stakeholders that the fostering of these values and attitudes is part of students’ formal learning, rather than entirely left to family matters, to ensure societal well-being and social cohesion.

Furthermore, focusing on a whole-student approach to competency development supports rethinking and redefining student success, articulating students as the intended beneficiaries of curriculum reform as well as embracing the concept of well-being as an integral part of reform (see Chapter 1). However, some countries/jurisdictions reported that some teachers see a competency-based curriculum which includes values, as an unnecessary responsibility and beyond what they understand to be the content of their subject. Guidance is required to support teachers to preserve the integrity of subject-area content and to appropriately address values in their learning contexts.

Media management is part of an important strategy for policy makers to manage curriculum change. Television, journals, blogs, online articles and other evolving social media can create new expectations about curriculum change among the general public. Media reports can make judgements based on individual school circumstances and make generalisations, which may not reflect the entire schools’, teachers’, parents’ and students’ experiences of curriculum change.

Academics and parent bodies often share their views to the media. However, supportive opinions rarely make the news, and it is often negative press (newspapers, blogs, social media groups) that influences mainstream opinion. Media, increasingly social media, can prompt widespread tensions when it comes to differences of opinion or conflicts of interest in relation to curriculum redesign.

Embedding values in curriculum is a sensitive issue, which may contribute to diverging attitudes on curriculum design. Contributing to polarisation, the media can make the adoption of curriculum reforms and change even more challenging for curricular authorities. Strategies to counter curriculum design influence by the media have included purpose-driven, government-led websites, to which schools and principals can contribute, sharing constructive feedback and best practice approaches among stakeholders.

Media influences all members of society who have a stake in education – school leaders and teachers, parents, students and the broader school community. By recognising that media forms part of the larger learning ecosystem, countries/jurisdictions need to develop strategies to manage messaging about curriculum redesign.

Students’ real-life experiences, their expectations, and their voices are often underestimated or neglected, i.e. not heard. Conscious efforts are needed to hear their voices. When the intent of curriculum change is underpinned by students’ interests, aspirations and ideals, and appropriately shared with students themselves, they may wish to express their opinions related to their experiences. Students may share the importance of values in their personal development and their concerns such as stress, overload and other matters they wish to have addressed. Such open sharing could help build strong, wide and authentic stakeholder leverage for planned change.

However, issues remain despite the fact that 196 countries have either ratified or signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. For example, Article 12 (e.g. “the right to be listened to”) is not always fully understood, or practised by teachers, school leaders and other adults working in school, or by parents at home.

It is important to raise the awareness of teachers and school leaders and provide opportunities for them to listen to student voice, find the balance among different voices, at times needing to reconciles tensions and dilemmas, and adjust their curriculum and lesson plans accordingly so as to accelerate curriculum change towards being more student agency-oriented, dynamic and inclusive. Such opportunities can be provided through, for example: teacher education, professional learning, or any other support programmes.

For parents, as discussed in Chapter 3, possible tensions arise when parental expectations, beliefs, and interests are, understandably at times, not exactly the same as those of their children. Dilemmas can arise from trying to strike a balance between parental aspirations for children and children’s own aspirations for future. In the context of developing students’ attitudes and values through formal or hidden curriculum, it is of utmost importance to create a safe environment where students can speak about their true selves. In other words, their voices should be authentic, not assumed voices in which students consciously or unconsciously assume what they should say in accordance with what their teachers or parents or friends think. This is particularly important for students to feel a sense of ownership of their own life and for them to own their learning.

Student voice can also be affected by systems or cultures, e.g. in some countries where there are high-stakes exams (such as a matriculation exam or university entrance exam), the systems of assessment and evaluation can be conducive to distortion of student voice. Both systemic and cultural barriers need to be removed to let authentic student voice out, so that the attitudes and values students inherently embrace can become visible, whereby teachers and parents can value students’ agency and competency development, including attitudes and values.

When embedding values and attitudes in curriculum, significant public concerns relate to how to measure, document and provide evidence about processes paving the way to learning outcomes of such curriculum. There are many decisions countries/jurisdictions need to make with regards to assessment of values and attitudes, e.g. how to measure them, how to document and use the results of any assessment, how students’ results should be reported, etc.

Debates always exists within the field of educational measurement in relation to different measures that may impact validity and reliability, different outcomes of summative or formative assessment, as well as different approaches to curriculum intentions and assessment possibilities (Orpwood, 2014[6]; Corrigan, Gunstone and Jones, 2013[7]). This is even more significant when considering assessing values and attitudes, as they are harder to define and more ambiguous than knowledge or skills (Lamprianou and Athanasou, 2019[8]).

To overcome difficulties associated with these types of measures there have been decades of efforts to creating an integrated taxonomy, a common language to measure, for example, social and emotional skills. Figure 5.1 shows “domains and manifestations of socio-emotional competences” (DOMASEC), a metrics that has been developed to align language across different frameworks, such as Big Five and CASEL, with the aim of offering conceptual clarity and to help identify and classify constructs, and (where applicable) to assess and measure social and emotional competences (Schoon, 2021[9]). In 2021, the OECD published Beyond Academic Learning: First Results from the Survey of Social and Emotional Skills, describing how students’ social and emotional skills relate to individual, family and school characteristics and set out policy implications (OECD, 2021[10]). The survey uses the Big Five model for the conceptual framework for assessment.

In Indonesia, after a 2013 curriculum change in elementary schools, teachers started implementing the “authentic assessment” method, an evaluation that reflects student learning, achievement, motivation and attitudes on instructionally-relevant activities (O’Malley and Pierce, 1996[11]; Kurniawati, Nurviyani and Halimah, 2015[12]). Research conducted in 2015 on its implementation revealed that the most used ‘authentic techniques’ to conduct this type of assessment were observation and journal assessment (Kurniawati, Nurviyani and Halimah, 2015[12]). However, the researchers found three main challenges to observation:

  1. 1. the number of students: observation of attitudes and behaviours is challenged by a large number of students in a class;

  2. 2. students' participation: not all students have the confidence to participate orally and interact with peers demonstrating their attitudes, making it impossible to assess them;

  3. 3. time limitation: authentic assessment needs sufficient time to be well-developed (Kurniawati, Nurviyani and Halimah, 2015[12]).

When assessing a whole-student development, including attitudes and values, it is important to consider not only validity and reliability but also how authentic the assessment is, which attitudes and values are feasible for inclusion, and whether it is practicable and sustainable, considering the scale, time and resources required.

Thanks to emerging new technologies, different methods have been developed to assess students' views and socio-emotional skills (Schoon, 2021[9]; Duckworth and Yeager, 2015[13]; Abrahams et al., 2019[14]). For example, computer-based problem scenarios (Rausch, Kögler and Seifried, 2019[15]), interactive computer games (Day et al., 2019[16]), or opportunistic measures derived from observing and coding the behaviours of individuals engaged in standardised assessment programmes (Zamarro et al., 2018[17]) can be used to balance the strengths and limitations of self-reports and direct assessments of social-emotional competences (Schoon, 2021[9]).

When it comes to embedding attitudes and values into curriculum and, as a consequence, measuring attitudes and values, it is important to strike a balance between recognising the complex realities of “what’s measured is treasured” and cultivating a new culture of “what’s important but not measured still is treasured”. Box 5.1 and Box 5.2 present such cases where changes are being introduced to assessment methods and practices, in line with curriculum change.

Curriculum development that incorporates values has received some treatment in literature, but knowledge gaps remain (Berkowitz, Battistich and Bier, 2008[20]). While it may be feasible to examine particular pedagogical techniques or features of values in curriculum, it is a challenge to examine the processes, assessment methods, and consequences of embedding values in curriculum and how these may have an impact on the diversity of students’ and teachers’ expectations of outcomes. Highlighted below are some selected issues that require further research:

Research is unclear as to the best way to ensure that values are outcomes of curriculum. Research and practice have shown that there are some effective strategies to different teaching and learning approaches. These include role-modelling, experiential learning and explicitly targeted tasks to convey and teach values; but there is limited research that has compared the effectiveness of different pedagogical approaches to values learning. The roles played by a student’s community – parents, family, peers and teachers – warrant further investigation. A more systematic investigation, contrasting various methods, is warranted in order to provide robust evidence relating to how values are directly taught or indirectly caught, sought, and aspired to and, finally, internalised and appropriated by learners.

The processes of incorporating attitudes and values in a national curriculum, like all aspects of curriculum redesign, are characterised by negotiation and consultation with administrators, policy makers, teachers, parents, and other key stakeholders. Case studies are needed to define successes, challenges, and the strategies that countries have undertaken in negotiating their successful inclusion. Identifying stumbling blocks and ways to productively engage stakeholders are steps in ensuring that attitudes and values can be incorporated effectively and appropriately.

In addition, the process of incorporating these competencies could contribute to issues of time lag in curriculum design – the delay between updated design and the knowledge needed. Studies of time lag could consider how incorporating values can be done effectively. Incorporating attitudes and values in curriculum is underpinned by considerations in relation to reconciling tensions between global and local values, as well as appreciating commonalities and synergies. Neither research nor theory has addressed this issue. Countries/jurisdictions need to consider and acknowledge, in incorporating attitudes and values in curriculum, whether these reflect national, regional or local priorities, or broader global values. Ensuring that students understand these nuances would be another important contribution to research in values in education.

Embedding attitudes and values in curriculum does not necessarily mean that students will actually develop these attributes. Differences in perspectives and conflicting influences can mitigate the outcomes of well-designed programmes. Research from education and developmental psychology may provide theoretical insights into how to best embed values and how this should be customised (Darling-Hammond et al., 2019[21]; Eccles, 1999[22]).

Although there is some research on assessment of attitudes and values (Poetker, 1977[23]; Meenatchi and Baskaran, 2016[24]), there is limited evidence as to how best to assess what has been learned, in particular, in terms of “whole child” development, encompassing all aspects of well-being and learning, including both cognitive and socio-emotional skills. Assessment can determine what learning has occurred during the learning process, can provide feedback to students and/or teachers throughout the learning process; and can serve as a reflective or learning tool. Attitudes and values do not necessarily lend themselves to assessment using traditional methods of measurement. Curriculum redesign could include a variety of assessment methods that suggest how teachers and students could incorporate approaches that ensure that not only students’ academic development, but also their development as human beings, are measured. Diary entries, discussions with teachers and peers, debates, mind maps, role-playing, interviews and self-evaluation, volunteer and service activities have been cited among strategies to encourage students to reflect on attitudes and values (Bird and Markle, 2012[25]; Durlak et al., 2007[26]; Berkowitz and Bier, 2007[27]). For example, mandatory assessments in Sweden include self-evaluations at the primary level. Questions such as: “How do you feel when you are going to: …explain something so that others understand; …say what you think about...” prompt students to think about responsibility towards self and others. National tests are based on national curriculum content and are consequently a way of supporting curriculum implementation in Sweden (Nusche et al., 2011[28]). In a study on values education processes in Turkish elementary schools, strategies reported as being most used to teach and/or assess values included: using visual materials to support concepts; teachers as role models; transferring of values; supportive correcting of behaviours; caregiving; developing perspectives; giving guidance; and purpose-developed presentations. In this same study, outside the classroom, teaching and evaluation of values were explored throughout activities such as field trips; social responsibility projects; and preparing bulletin boards (Kaya and Ekşi, 2021[29]). Self-assessment is a tool used to improve well-being and change behaviours. For example, activities that engage students to think about values that they bring to their community, especially when paired with sharing with a peer, provide opportunities for self-reflection and learning from others (The Jubilee Centre for Character & Virtues, n.d.[30]). Changes in behaviours, such as through volunteering or acts of civic engagement, can be can recorded as measures of learning (Berkowitz and Bier, 2007[27]). However, it is not clear whether some of these innovative techniques are more effective than others and warrants further research.


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← 1. Formal learning is organised and structured, and has learning objectives. From the learner’s standpoint, it is always intentional: i.e. the learner’s explicit objective is to gain knowledge, skills and/or competences. Typical examples are learning that takes place within an initial education and training system or workplace training arranged by an employer. It may be referred to as formal education and/or training or, more accurately, education and/or training in a formal setting. Informal learning is never organised, has no set objective in terms of learning outcomes and is never intentional from the learner’s standpoint. Often may be referred to as learning by experience or just, experience. The concept is that the simple fact of existing, constantly exposes the individual to learning situations, at work, at home or during leisure time for instance. Non-formal learning may be organised and can have learning objectives. The advantage of this intermediate concept between formal and informal learning lies in the fact that such learning may occur at the initiative of the individual but also happens as a by-product of more organised activities, whether or not the activities themselves have learning objectives. In some countries, adult learning falls into the category of non-formal learning; in others, most adult learning is formal. Non-formal learning therefore provides some flexibility between formal and informal learning, and should be strictly defined to be operational, by being mutually exclusive, and avoid overlap with other learning. (OECD, 2018[31])

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