Schools and educational institutions give a lot of importance to the design and implementation of the academic curriculum. However, apart from the conventional academic curriculum, there is an unwritten curriculum that plays a crucial role in the overall development of the students. This is known as the ‘hidden curriculum’.
A hidden curriculum is a set of lessons that are not directly taught by the school or teachers but conveyed indirectly in the classroom and through the social environment of an educational institution.
Following are some typical examples of what constitutes a hidden curriculum:
Prominent social and cultural values, such as honesty, respectfulness, modesty, and others, if inculcated at a young age, play a critical role in shaping the values of a student. The school, teachers, and peer group contribute to this process of developing cultural values in students. For example, if the school teaches its students to acknowledge, accept and respect diversity from a young age, as adults, they will find it natural and easy to be accepting of the diversity of our society. Instead, if the students are not exposed to a diverse environment from an early age, they might find it tough, as adults, to respect diversity and adapt to it. Thus, schools and teachers must keep in mind the impact of their words and actions on the students. Young children absorb everything around them, and it is the responsibility of the education provider to facilitate the development of good cultural values among their students.
The academic and overall performance of a student is dependent on many factors. Two sets of students might study the same curriculum, but their learning process might be distinctly different. For example, in one case, a teacher may assign difficult homework questions or ask challenging questions in the class to enhance the student’s knowledge, while some teachers might restrict themselves to the textbook and only focus on the questions that are necessary from the exam point of view.
In the first case, there is a higher probability that students will take more interest and thus, achieve better results in their academics. In the latter case, most of the students may become disinterested and end up focusing on passing the exams rather than developing a more profound understanding of the topic.
The school, as an entity, also plays a role in setting the right academic expectations. Some established schools are known to be favorite among parents because they have a reputation for nurturing ‘toppers’. Parents believe that such a competitive environment will motivate their children to be better in their academics. Some schools, hold their entrance exams to admit students which act as a way to select only those students who can align to the academic expectations set down by these schools.
The teaching strategy adopted by teachers plays a pivotal role in developing the learning style of students. For example, if a teacher encourages their students to ask more questions in the class or participate in various school competitions, the students naturally become more active learners. However, if a teacher simply asks students to focus on the academic curriculum and doesn’t encourage them to ask doubts or be curious, the students may not develop an interest or a good understanding of the topic. Thus, it is important to pay attention to the teaching style to help the students achieve their fullest potential.
The code of conduct in a school or institution influences the students in many intentional and unintentional ways. These rules may be in a written or an unwritten format. For example, if a school is very strict about the attire and appearance of its students, the students are likely to carry forward this habit into their adulthood to become adults who tend to be well-dressed and thus, create a better impression of their personality. However, if a school is not very particular about such things, as adults, these students may find it difficult to adjust to the etiquette of formal places such as the corporate environment. On the other hand, if the institutional rules are too strict, it may make the students too smug. Some students may even lose their confidence or fear standing up for their rights. Thus, it is important to maintain a fine balance while creating the rules and codes of conduct that form a part of the hidden curriculum of an institution and provide the most suitable environment for the development of your students.
Students learn how to interact with figures of authority and with adults, other than their parents, based on how they interact with their teachers. If the school emphasizes the behavioral aspects of its students, through its hidden curriculum, it will encourage the students, in the long run, to be more respectful towards older people. Additionally, the manner of conduct within their peer group will go a long way in determining how the students will interact with other people of their age when they grow up into adults.
If the school fosters a positive environment and encourages social interaction, the students will find it easier, later in their lives, to mix with other people in society. However, if the school is too focused on academics and too strict on implementing its rules, the students may not develop the necessary interpersonal skills to function effectively in society.
A hidden curriculum is a part of all academic institutions around us. However, because of the unwritten and, sometimes, subtle nature of the same, it is difficult to pinpoint, develop or even modify it.
As an educator, be observant of the impact your institution and your actions have on your students. Discuss the goals of your institution and try to write down some key aspects of the hidden curriculum you want to focus on. When you document them, it will become easier for you to act on them. For example, you can start by creating a value chart of your institution. You can write down the core values of your institution and what they mean in that specific environment. Place this chart in common areas and discuss it with all the stakeholders. Ask the opinion of all the stakeholders on the same. Try to inculcate and strengthen these values among students through simple group activities.
Through such deliberate efforts, you will find that soon the hidden curriculum in your institution will stop being so abstract and will become something you can leverage to the benefit of your students.