The Hidden Curriculum

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By Marwa Kotb.

Educational experts design official curricula that covers various learning objectives of the subject matter. Yet, in addition to any formal curriculum designed, there is a hidden curriculum that integrate informal or unplanned experiences that have significant impact on the learning process. Phillip Jackson is acknowledged as the originator of the term hidden curriculum in his book “Life in Classrooms” based on his observations in public school classrooms (Nami, Marsooli, & Ashouri, 2013). Later, the term had a broad range of definitions, each functions in a different area. But in higher education, the term commonly refers to what educators and students actually do, the “experience on the ground” (Sambell& McDowell, 1998).

For this article, I will consider hidden curriculum to be “a set of educational influences that shape learning at the level of organizational structure and culture including, implicit values, customs, rituals, and taken for granted practices” (RED, 2015, March). The definition indicates that hidden curriculum is elusive, it can reinforce formal teaching or it may even contradict the formal curriculum as it involves assumptions and expectations that were never formally communicated.

After reading few articles on the topic, it seemed to me that hidden curriculum is a grey area that can be critically harmful. At this point, I questioned if educators can ignore or avoid this type of curriculum to stay away from the danger zone. It is neither possible nor feasible to do that, implicit curriculum is an essential part of the teaching-learning experience. The implicit interactions convey many powerful messages related to roles, norms and values of any professional practice. In my field as a programming educator, work-based activities teach students things that weren’t written in the formal curriculum such as how they should function in the work community, how to communicate professionally, and the influences of the ethical and cultural aspects in workplaces. And thus, for me the solution is not to omit but to make the hidden curriculum more transparent (RED, 2015, March).

There are three significant strategies that should be done if educators desire to address the pervasive educational issues, support their students to learn in complex practical experiences, and bridge the gap between what formal and informal. First, educators must find out what in their hidden curricula contradict the formal curricula and confuse the students, they should focus on areas that affect evaluation, and find ways in their practices to make those implicit areas more explicit. Second, educators should open up a direct conversation about the hidden curriculum with their students and equip them with the appropriate strategies to manage it. Last, reflection and feedback should be more frequent in courses that convey many implicit lessons. These two techniques can help educators to find out students facing conflicting expectations and support them.

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