Curriculum 21 – EDK proceeds to implementation

Curriculum 21 – EDK proceeds to implementation

We have to regain our direct democracy and federalism!

by Dr iur Marianne Wüthrich

While in many cantons parents, teachers and other citizens, alarmed by the continuing education cuts in our schools, are launching or have even already submitted popular initiatives, the few members of the Governing Councils sit in their self-proclaimed body EDK (Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education) and demonstrate, that they will not allow themselves to be distracted from their plans by the voters. Individual education directors are proclaiming the early introduction of Curriculum 21 (LP21) in their cantons, even before the consultation deadline is fixed for the withdrawal from HarmoS or the date of the vote is issued concerning the initiatives that will decide on the voters’ right of co-determining the curriculum. Indeed, for a number of years the EDK has been organizing the conduction of national tests – according to the principle: once the money flows, the people will surely agree.1

Do not underestimate us voters! Just because already millions of our cantonal tax coffers have been spent on a wrong concept, the concept is not getting less wrong.
By examining the EDK’s media statements and their documents for test planning, one realizes: In the “House of the Cantons” in Berne – there is a peculiar carelessness about the rule of law, of federalism and of direct democracy. There the members of the cantonal executive are romping about instead of pursuing the tasks for which we have elected them, in their cantons.

Consultation as an alibi exercise

Looking back: On 28 June 2013, the education or training directors Christian Amsler (SH), Regine Aeppli (ZH), Alex Hürzeler (AG) and the ever-ready LCH-President Beat Zemp2 went to the media and invited the cantons as well as various German and nation-wide organizations and institutions for the consultation (opinion) on Curriculum 21. Until then, a handpicked group of experts had secretly pursued their own agenda for three years. Teachers, who had volunteered to read the draft and follow the work, as you would wish for in our direct democracy, had been rejected.
Now some institutions were invited to express their opinion on the matter until the end of 2013. Broad discussions in the public, in the staff rooms and with the parents were not allowed for. From the press release of 28.6.2013:

“After the consultation, Curriculum 21 will be revised taking into account the received feedback. At the same time existing teaching materials will be adapted and new ones will be developed that are based on Curriculum 21. Already now, in most subject areas appropriate educational materials are available. Revised Curriculum 21 is expected to be submitted in autumn 2014 to the Swiss-German Ministers of Education for approval. Each canton then decides on the introduction in own competence. [...]”

Several remarks are due concerning this media statement:

  • Meanwhile, we have witnessed what the revision “taking into account the feedback received” looks like: More than 500 pages have been “reduced” to just under 500 pages, the amount of competencies have been a little bit contracted, biggest chunks have been withdrawn or formulated more “innocuously”.
       It was never intended to incorporate the fundamental criticism of Curriculum 21.
  • “Already now, in most subject areas corresponding educational materials are available”, so the media statement. It should be added: Already today (which means already in June 2013), students of the teacher-training colleges are trained as coaches instead of as real teachers. If, before the consultation period, everything has already been arranged, why a consultation at all?
  • In autumn 2014, the revised Curriculum 21 was adopted as planned by the Swiss-German Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (d-EDK), with the comment that the revision had successfully been effectuated.3
       This means: The same Councillors having launched Curriculum 21, launched the revision at the beginning of 2014 and on 7 November 2014 they contentedly stated, that it would now be possible to introduce Curriculum 21 in the cantons. Such sleaze does not fit the Swiss model!
  • The d-EDK is affirming again and again that, naturally, the cantons are authorized to introduce Curriculum 21. The school reformers were compelled to allow Article 62, Section 1 of the Constitution to stay as it is (“The cantons are responsible for the school system”) – the cancellation of which the sovereign would never ever have conceded. Exercising the cantonal sovereignty in education matters, for example, in the Canton of Basel-Stadt means the following:

“Curriculum 21 of the Swiss-German Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education 31 October 2014, is enacted as elementary school curriculum in the Canton of Basel-Stadt. It shall take effect on 17 August 2015 on the beginning of the school year 2015/2016 and applies to primary and lower secondary school (1st-11th grade).”4

Where have we got to? Are we in direct-democratic, federal Switzerland? Or in an executives’ dictatorship? We, the citizens prefer the former and in the individual cantons we demand, that the curriculum will be decided on by the people from now on.

Nationwide testing system for the “review of basic skills” arranged for years to come before the consultation

What the citizens did not get: A few days before the Ministers of Education submitted Curriculum 21 for consultation at the end of June 2013, the EDK Plenary Assembly had already adopted an already completed concept to verify the basic skills laid down in Curriculum 21, including a time and cost schedule. In October 2012, the EDK had already decided on the “establishment of a task data collection”.5
Already in the spring of 2015, the pilot survey by taking samples in the 9th grade will take place, namely “combined with the main survey PISA 2015”.6 Now we can imagine what sort of check-ups these tests will be. All check-ups in all school-grades in all school types in all subjects and in all cantons are listed until 2026 in this concept (!). In some cantons there will be samples, in other cantons with less students the whole student population will be tested. The number of students in all cantons, organised according to school years were supplied by the BfS (Federal Statistical Office).7 Of course all the tests would be done on computer (even for the children in the 2nd year of primary school!); in schools that do not have enough computers the person administering the test is to supply them.8
In the 9th grade the testing will start already in 2016, i.e. with students who spent their entire school carreer prior to the introduction of the Curriculum 21. So the EDK assumes that competence-orientation has already long been racticed in our schools thanks to the teacher training that has already taken place and to the corresponding teaching aids. And if the students in one or other of the cantons do not yet know and master the tricks well in the tests by which one achieves high scores, the responsible Councillor will do antything to safeguard that his canton will not be at the ranking’s tail-end.
As democracy-aware citizens we perceive an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of our stomachs – the EDK and their office team behave as if Switzerland was only one huge administrative block that had carte blanche to do as they like, irrespective of the citizens’ opinion.

Whether based on HarmoS – or not? An unparalleled infringement of the law

Let us talk about the “legal basis” of the whole manoeuvre: The EDK bases all this testing and thereby the Curriculum 21 which is intended to achieve the “basic skills” that are to be tested, on the “HarmoS Concordat”: “as part of the Concordat concerning the inter-cantonal Agreement on the Harmonization of Compulsory Education of 14 June 2007, the cantons decided to develop, implement and periodically review nation-wide educational standards.” The HarmoS Concordat stipulates in Article 10 paragraph 2: “The developments and achievements of compulsory education are regularly evaluated within the scope of this educational monitoring. Part of it is to verify the achievement of the national education standards in particular by reference tests in the sense of Article 8 paragraph 4.”9
We remember well that at the end of 2014, when in the cantons the resistance to Curriculum 21 emerged, the EDK suddenly insisted that this had nothing to do with HarmoS. However, here it apparently did: at any rate, the “evaluation of the national education standards in the context of this educational monitoring” – so the giant bureaucracy test – is based on the Articles 8 and 10 of the HarmoS Concordat.
Does this mean that the ten cantons that have not joined the HarmoS Concordat have nothing to do with the EDK testing? Yet, according to the strange legal opinion of the EDK. “All cantons that joined the HarmoS Concordat  will take part. All non-accession cantons, except Appenzell Inner-Rhodes, principally take part as well. However, they have not yet definitively decided. For the moment, in the Canton of Grisons, the survey will omit the Rhaeto-Romanic 4th (2nd) and 8th (6th) grades, due to methodological difficulties in the task and test development, whereas the Rhaeto-Romanic 11th (9th) grades will use the German language test material.”10
Let us remember: the inspection machine of the EDK is based on the Articles 8 and 10 of the HarmoS Concordat, but takes all non-HarmoS cantons, such as Grisons, in the leaky boat – without the slightest regard to direct democratic decisions. “Principally, all non-accession-cantons, except Appenzell Inner-Rhodes, will take part, as well.” (As we learned on request from the cantonal school office, Appenzell Inner-Rhodes had not been included because of a mere formality and it joined in the meantime.) This means that the State Council of the Canton of Grisons or of Thurgau or of Appenzell Inner-Rhodes elected by the people obviously forgets their loyality to the decisions of the cantonal sovereign, when they are in the House of Cantons in Berne and there agrees to everything that is requested by the EDK (or one of the other intergovernmental conferences). In my opinion as a citizen it would be wise to occasionally ask the cantonal government about who decided on the “participation” of the non-HarmoS cantons, and also ask about the meaning of the statement “But they have not yet definitely decided”. Have some of our state councils been pricked a bit by their conscience?

And finally: Who is going to pay the high costs?

In the EDK plenary assembly on 20 June 2013 our taxes were collected with the large ladle – once more – before the alibi consultation!
For 2014 to 2016 there were 1,123,333 Swiss Francs per year budgeted, for 2017 to 2019 per year 1,128,889 Swiss Francs, “with the possibility of a revised budget” (in plain language: with the possibility to later push up the budgeted amount).11 These are proud sums, especially when you consider who is going to pay for them: all cantons are asked to pay, depending on the size of the population, even those who did not join HarmoS! For example, the Canton of Lucerne with 381,966 Swiss Francs, or the populous Canton ofAargau with 618,298 Swiss Francs, total for 2014 to 2019.12
Here, too, I would recommend to ask the local government council, on which legal basis it supports these proud sums from the cantonal tax collector’s office ?13

Instead of a final word: What is the use of all this?

The basic skills will be tested in a panel study, i.e. at the end of the 3 cycles (2nd, 6th and 9th grades) the results are compared, presumably in relation to the scores achieved in each case and with many nicely coloured graphics; every 4 years the EDK will issue a report. Data protection will be supposedly highly respected, so that one wonders what is all this for? “The information submitted to the cantons or science for further analysis are not sufficient to draw conclusions about the schools, classes or teachers involved. There is no feedback of the results neither at school level nor at class or individual level. The instruments to be developed will neither be used for school rankings nor for the evaluation of teachers’ performance.”14
Thereto various questions arise: it is self-evident that rankings of schools and evaluations of teachers are not intended, though not really sure. Who guarantees the schools and the teachers, that there will be no comparison under the counter? And if the schools and the pupils themselves are not informed about their ranking, what is the whole endeavor for? And how much will the taxpayers have to pay additionally, if the data is passed to the cantons and the scientists “for further analysis”?
Once again: Cui bono? Who benefits? Least of all our children who will be left alone at their computers and trimmed on collecting credits, from the beginning of their schooling. The hosts of “experts”, test leaders, producers of tasks and questionnaires, IT companies, report writers, etc. will probably benefit a lot more.     •

1    “Review of the achievement of basic skills; concept: adoption”, Resolution of the Plenary Assembly of the EDK from 20 June 2013; “Using external test leaders/coders in the context reviewing the achievement of the basic skills: resolution,” EDK resolution of 12 June 2014
2    Teachers Switzerland
4     Ministry of Education of the Canton of Basel-Stadt, Resolution of the Education Council of 1 December 2014
5    Resolution of the Plenary Assembly from 20 June 2013 (review of the achievement of basic skills; concept: adoption).
6    “Review of the achievement of basic skills, department quality development, General Secretary EDK, concept, 20 June 2013,” p. 7)
7    ibid, p. 9
8     ibid, p. 5
9     ibid, p. 3
10    ibid, p. 4
11    Resolution of the Plenary Assembly from 20 June 2013
12     ibid, p. 13/14
13     ibid, p. 13/14
14    ibid, p. 4


mw. Do you know the “Stellwerk-Tests”? These are now  common online tests for pupils of the 8th or 9th school year in the subjects mathematics, German, nature and technology, French and English, each with three levels. So just in those subjects, which are also to be tested according to Curriculum 21. The aim of the test is a positioning for each young person. After he has solved the tests in all subjects, he receives a performance specification, meaning that he is informed about his strengths and weaknesses so that he can “plan his further learning” for the remaining schooltime. ( In plain language: The pupils of all school years are supposed to spend their school days primarily with training possible test tasks in order to come to the highest possible score on the next test. It is called Learning-to-the-Test – a senseless cramming of incoherent contents, without real understanding of the subjects, without relation to the teacher who was actually there to teach something to his pupils that will remain in their heads.
Solve once a Stellwerk-Test, then you will get a foretaste of the LP-21-tests. E.g. in the subject German the pupil (in the 9th school year!) doesn’t have to write a single own formulated sentence, but here tick one answer out of a selection of four, there click two non-matching words in a sentence, there select from two verb forms or word classes the right one. In several test questions the answers are arranged in such a way that the juveniles easily see which answers surely do not fit. And the greatest wickedness is that the test-producers make our young people believe that with the senseless and incoherent Learning-to-the-Test they practically would already have their desired apprenticeship in the bag. The only people who benefit if hundreds of thousands young people solve such tests, are the Bertelsmann-Companies and similar companies which make money with the purchase of the software, as well as the suppliers of the hardware, the computer.

“Curriculum 21: simply explained. In how far does Curriculum 21 effect students? ‘SRF mySchool’ explains it by animation”

“In Switzerland there are 21 German- and multi-lingual cantons. At the moment there are huge differences, how and what students are learning in these cantons. Therefore only one curriculum should be taught, that is Curriculum 21. The advantage for the students: In case they change residence, moving for example from the Canton of Bern eto the Canton of Zurich, they can simply continue the lessons at where they were stopped  shortly before. So within the German-speaking parts of Switzerland students will always be on the same education level. However, Curriculum 21 changes the teaching, as well. New topics are: economy, work and household; modules about professional orientation, media and informatics and education towards sustainable development are more in focus. But modules are not treated as single subjects but as subject-combining, interdisciplinary topics. For example geometry is no longer only done on the blackboard but also worked on at the computer. Curriculum 21 is mostly oriented at competences. That means that students can operate in practice while using the knowledge they acquired at school. (cf. picture) But not everything can be regulated by Curriculum 21. What timetables look like and how marks are assigned for example is in the competence of the cantons. Therefore the particularities of the cantons remain in spite of the harmonisation of the school system.” (SRF Myschool 17th November 2014, Curriculum 21 for children/
mw. Our children will be over the moon: When they move from Berne to Zurich, they can continue with the lessons at the point where they had stopped before. How this is to work will be highly interesting for the school-youth: Is there a huge computer-network that lets out the competences to be done that day in German and Mathematics, every morning for each fifth graders of 21 cantons? Oh no, the timetables will still be different in each canton: Not in each and every class a German and Mathematics lesson will take place just on Monday mornings. Timetables and assignment regulations of each canton shall remain specific. Educational sovereignty would be limited to timetables and mark-scales – a poor federalism, don’t you think so?  
And yes, before I forget it: How exactly is it going to work when somebody moves from Berne to Zurich? At least for the foreign languages the computer-giant would spy out a mess. Because in bilingual Berne French is naturally the first foreign language (French from the third grade on, English from the fifth) while in Zurich children begin with English as the first foreign language and start with French only in the fifth grade. Besides a comparable level of performance, also in other subjects – if subjects will exist at all! – will only be mandatory  at the end of one of the so called cycles. Bad luck for our fifth-grader: What subject exactly will be taught in the second cycle (third to sixth grade), where he is right in midterm  nobody knows, even not the EDK-experts in the House of Cantons … So my good sirs: Don’t make the program mySchool tell the children fairy-tales!
By the way, it is common knowledge that in some cantons a discussion about the question is going on, whether foreign languages should not principally be taught at the secondary level,  at least one of them. In the spare lessons German language could be taught to the effect that Swiss-German students might master the language reasonably after 9 years of school, both in speaking and writing. With a good command of the German language as a basis the students would be able to learn a foreign language all the better – that much knowledge about learning theory might be expected to be stored even in the brains of  the EDK-experts.

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