“Curriculum 21 – cementing unspeakable reforms”

“Introducing an additional radical reform called constructivism, if possible unnoticed”

Interview with National Councillor Verena Herzog

The Curriculum 21 is giving the people much cause for discussion, mainly because the many initiatives demand a broad debate among the population. This is also urgently necessary, for this curriculum was ordered without any necessity or democratic legitimacy. There is neither a political nor an educational reason for this monster curriculum, which aims at introducing a fundamental change of school and education. It actually is a paradigm shift.
In the following interview, the school politician and SVP National Councillor Verena Herzog comments in detail on the meaning and impact of Curriculum 21.

Current Concerns: What should a good elementary school provide especially in our direct democracy?

National Councillor Verena Herzog: The elementary school’s mandate is to provide children with a solid foundation for the basic skills. On the one hand, these include the purely cognitive subjects such as mathematics, German language and science. The purpose is to provide knowledge that later can be applied. On the other hand, the arts education and craft skills should be promoted. For me, the teaching of values is crucial, since they get increasingly lost in our society whereas they are so important for a person’s whole life. Enjoyment of performance and competition, care, precision and endurance are also included. Sufficient time must be provided for persistent practising. Performance is to be graded. Evaluations of students’ performance must be understandable and comprehensible for instructors. In addition, the school should also help our children to become mature and responsible citizens who take on their responsibility by actively shaping our direct democracy.

Does Curriculum 21 provide these important components of a comprehensive education?

No, not at all. I expect a curriculum to include basic, mandatory annual objectives in the core subjects. The number of binding full year learning objectives is still too high even after the so-called revision of Curriculum 21. With its radical competence orientation it has overstated its case. There is too little time to provide basic education so that students can understand and apply the fundamental educational content. This will result in the known hustle and bustle of “going through” as many competences as possible. A curriculum should be a practical tool in the hands of the teacher, which can actually be applied and creates transparency for parents and students, as well.
Curriculum 21 does not only cement unspeakable reforms such as the full integration of all children into the regular mainstream classes. Simultaneously, Curriculum 21 wants to introduce an additional radical new reform, constructivism, if possible unnoticed. With its questionable primacy of capability versus knowledge and the swapable educational contents Curriculum 21 establishes a highly complex system on a shaky foundation. This curriculum launched an education reform that is a high risk factor both materially and financially. An order to do so was never given. The previously common targeted way of teaching educational contents by the teacher, is meant to disappear. The energy that teachers had better used for teaching and working for the children must now be invested in additional post-graduate education in order to enable the teachers to acquire the new teaching and learning philosophy. The student’s school rucksack will not be filled by one more microgram that way!

What do you consider an important cornerstone of teaching?

For me, the backbone of a good school is the teacher who guides the children and the class. The Swiss elementary school owes its internationally recognized quality to the teacher who comprehensively knows and assesses the class and students. He knows the development potential of his students best because at the primary school level he taught them in most subjects. He thus knows both the strengths and the weaknesses of the students and is therefore able to promote them in their strengths so that they learn how to compensate their weaknesses and overcome them with the help of their strengths, hence develop optimal motivation – an invaluable experience for their future existence in their lives and their work.
Constructivism and competence orientation require a type of school in which the class teacher is more or less abolished and replaced by mere learning coaches. Such a system demands too much, particularly of the weaker students. Children finding out for themselves what is important to learn at what time and having to do so without specific instruction and supervision by the class teacher, is going to lead to predictable, great education cuts. Learning coaches for the elementary school are a totally wrong approach passing the child over.

The aim of Curriculum 21 was to increase equal chances …

… No, the opposite is the case. In order to provide equal opportunities, clearly defined objectives, which the child should achieve, and the closest possible attention by the class teacher would be required. It has always been the teacher’s task to start from where the children are at with respect to their achievement. But even this has its limits. We cannot compile a program for each child individually. It is crucial to consider the developmental stages of children. At primary school level, it would be important to pay special attention to the gross and fine motor skills, develop the craft skills and arouse the curiosity of children in addition to teaching the basic subjects.

Is the mixed-age group learning, touted as something progressive, part of the same wrong path as the competence orientation?

The term “Altersdurchmischtes Lernen” (AdL, mixed-age goup learning) is in part a fraudulent labeling. AdL does not mean the classic comprehensive school with its division into age groups in classes, but it means individualized instruction, regardless of the child’s age in a group, hence with children of different ages and different levels of performance. This type of teaching represents a huge additional burden on teachers and demands too much of those many students who already have the greatest difficulties to concentrate. The handicapped child will be completely lost and will not be able to follow and join up. This is a disaster for the child’s self-esteem. Precisely for this reason teaching in age groups was introduced in the first place! Hence, AdL means a giant step backwards.

You said earlier that some poor reforms, which we have already had, are going to be cemented by Curriculum 21.

For me, the most radical reform in recent years is full integration. According to this reform, any child including those with mental handicaps are to be taught in regular classes. This devours an awful lot of the teachers’ energy on the one hand, it generates increasing uneasiness in the classroom and an enormous potential for distraction. On the other hand, experience shows that the full integration of the child with a disability is beneficial actually only in the rarest of cases. We now know that the suffering of having to realize every day that you are not able to keep up with other students is greater than the profit in a regular class. In a small, specialized class children with handicaps can be encouraged much more specifically, which is more promising …

… That is actually logical …

Indeed, and moreover the system of headteachers neither provides the expected potential – for example a better human resources management – merely in the least cases. Headteachers are often used to make new education reforms popular among the teachers, implement and control them. In addition, the introduction of Curriculum 21 is supposed to finally cement the educationally unconvincing language concept with the model 3/5, without having wasted one critical sentence about it.

To what extent do other areas, such as the teaching of lerning contents, matter?

Of course, the teaching of contents should play a central role. By doing so, imagination and the ability to think and criticize are practised and trained. During childhood and adolescence learning aptitude is higher than ever. Each lesson should be used wisely. A systematic introduction not only to our body of knowledge, but also to our culture takes place in those years. Finally, our parents leave their children to the state in full trust that it makes use of these years of life for the benefit of the children and not to perform experiments on them.

A criticism of the curriculum is that in addition to the great factual and educational weaknesses it interferes into the private lives of parents and children. How must we understand this?

This includes, for example, the whole gender ideology. With respect to this topic the curriculum makers made amendments, they say. However, only singular words were exchanged in fact. Add to that the sex education. Teaching this topic is only justified from year 7 on. In preschool, sex education has no business. This is not part of the school’s business but of the family’s.
But other areas that are adopted through various subordinate UN bodies in Switzerland, for example certain radical aspects of our lifestyles, are irrelevant in a curriculum, at least not without broad public discussion. How should one, for example, check whether a child is “self-competent”? What should be included and what not? Who sets the benchmark?

Curriculum 21 bypasses cantonal sovereignty. How should we understand the behaviour of the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (EDK)?

The SVP favours the abolition of the German-speaking Swiss EDK or at least the reduction of their funds. The German speaking Swiss EDK has no legitimacy. Because the HarmoS project failed. Cantons that have not signed the concordat, remain and are independent. The EDK in Eastern Switzerland has its place in certain areas. If the cantons agree on annual objectives for learning, this would make sense especially regarding the mobility of families.

That means, if there is no democratic legitimacy, we really have an exceeding of authority.

That’s right. Our elementary school must remain federal. In addition to the enforced conformity there is also competition, and competition is good. The cantons should aim at good schools and ensure that children are fully instructed. In addition, not all cantons have the same financial means. A rural canton has other conditions and requirements than an urban one. It makes sense to solve certain topics at the community level. The need for supplementary childcare or day schools is dependent on the location. Curriculum 21 wants to take over tasks, which have nothing to do with a curriculum. Thus, for example, they are trying to introduce day schools through the back door after the latter have received little attention politically.

The EDK has clearly signaled that Curriculum 21 is going to be implemented. Would it not be imperative to widely discuss it among the population before?

In the first place it is important that the teachers are being involved. They did not have a say in the development of Curriculum 21. And second, the population should be able to decide on something that is so essential, especially since Curriculum 21 does not only introduce annual learning objectives, but includes a comprehensive school reform including a new educational philosophy and significant financial impact with its constructivism and competence orientation.
So too few teachers from the field have been involved in the preparation of Curriculum 21. The population is completely left out, although it is our children that will suffer later on.
Major criticism from the grassroots and the economy were not considered, neither in the consultation nor in the revision of Curriculum 21. It is therefore not surprising that some 1,000 teachers got together in a group to critically scrutinize Curriculum 21 in detail. Even after the third revision in which a certain slimming down is visible, those in charge of the curriculum do not at all abandon the actual reforms, constructivism and the competence orientation, while mandatory annual objectives are still missing and Curriculum 21 is anything but user-friendly.

After your assessment one has the impression that it was clear the Curriculum 21 must now be implemented as quickly as possible without discussion and against all opposition.

Yes, that is indeed the case. The German-speaking Swiss EDK did not reckon with such resistance. They rashly said that only the HarmoS opponents and especially the SVP exponents would oppose Curriculum 21. But that was a fatal error. In the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” we could read several times that resistance and criticism came from various social and political movements. Several representatives of business and educational scientists queried the new reforms, its constructivism and competence orientation.

There is resistance in the population. In various cantons signatures are being collected. Is that not a sound reaction to the authoritarian approach of the curriculum makers?

Yes, of course. In some cantons parliamentary initiatives have been launched and signatures for popular initiatives are being collected, which aim at Parliament or the public having a say on the introduction of Curriculum 21.

This means that individuals must make an enormous effort to achieve something which is actually one of the fundamental pillars of our democracy, namely a say on such important issues. Add to that the costs of creating and implementing the curriculum in addition to the useless educational concept. And the taxpayer is charged the costs, the citizen who was not even asked beforehand. What will each canton have to contribute in terms of funding?

In order to be able to introduce constructivism and competence-based learning, at least 120 multipliers are trained solely in the canton of Thurgau, which respectively should train their school teams and support them in their work. Transferred to all German-speaking cantons enormous costs in the amount of at least double-digit millions will have to be paid. In addition to the costs of training, costly and time-consuming administrative tasks are generated which will devour the energy that should be better used by the teachers directly in the classroom. If we work out the costs for the development of Curriculum 21, for which 5,000 competencies were developed involving more than a hundred people in the making, everyone can imagine what the costs have amounted to only up to this day. Not to mention the evaluation and review ... The decision on these payroll expenses without any democratic legitimacy must be submitted to the people.

After your observations, I conclude that there is no room for the child – who should actually be at the center of attention – in this curriculum. How do you see that?

Looking at Curriculum 21, which I have so far examined in detail, I must say that it entirely neglects the child. It is a bubble of competencies that have been formulated in detail, but the child, who should be at the center, is completely neglected. It is all about ideologies that were written by some bureaucrats and school reformers without ever having had a public debate on them. The first version of Curriculum 21 included over 570 pages that have meanwhile been reduced with the help of some cosmetics. But neither the basic concept nor the targets have changed. As a comparison, the new, detailed and user-friendly proposal for a primary school curriculum written by the SVP contains specific annual objectives on 97 pages. As a wise proverb says: Less is more!

National Councillor Mrs Herzog, thanks for the detailed interview.     •

(Interview Thomas Kaiser)