International handbook of curriculum research

William Pinar has edited a vast but coherent compendium which will be invaluable to anyone wishing to research different national traditions of curriculum research, and to gain some understanding of curriculum debates in the 28 countries that this book covers.

The book begins with four ‘essays of introduction’, which explore in various ways the challenges and opportunities of economic and cultural globalisation Though written from a North American or Australian perspective, these introductory essays are notable for their attempts to transcend conventionally ‘western’ perspectives, and to understand the significance and value of different knowledge traditions.

There is not space enough here to treat in any detail the rich and varying approaches of the ‘country-centred’ essays that follow. Taken as a whole, from Argentina to Zimbabwe, they represent a welcome attempt to avoid both Eurocentric emphases, and the policy orthodoxies of organisations such as the World Bank and the World Trading Organisation. The authors are mindful of the criticism that curriculum research has had a tendency, both past and present, to accommodate itself too readily to government agenda. They are alert to ‘global’ philosophical currents, especially those associated with postmodernism, at the same time as they register a strong sense of national tradition.

Despite the great length of the book, readers of this journal may regret a certain narrowness in the way in defines its object. ‘Curriculum’ for most contributors means ‘curriculum for students in the compulsory phase of education’. Issues of university, professional and lifelong curricula are somewhat under-emphasised, and when pedagogy is discussed, it is usually — but not invariably; Brazil is one of the exceptions — in the context of young people’s learning.

One might also question a tendency in the book to over emphasise the role of nation states in forming educational cultures. Historically, this emphasis is accurate enough, but the balance between national and international influence is now surely shifting. As we have already seen in the case of European higher education, the EU is now exerting an homogenising influence (cf the controversial Bologna process of credit harmonisation). Likewise, the OECD is a powerful force for educational convergence, across national boundaries. Had this impressive volume charted more closely the impact of international policy norms — competence-based education, for instance — on national systems, it would have contributed still more to our understanding.

This article is for subscribers only