The Perfect School Curriculum from the Pupil’s POV: Guest Post by Dr. Paula Jackson

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Dr. Paula Jackson is a children’s author, as well as a speaker, coach, and consultant in the fields of education, social entrepreneurship and educational technology (EdTech). This article originally appeared on LinkedIn, July 2016 about a study that Jackson conducted. I found it interesting because the same answers were given by different groups of students ten years apart, underlining the lack of progress in education reform. The article has been adapted for Rosco’s Reading Room with permission from Dr. Paula Jackson.

What Would Your Perfect School Curriculum Look Like? The Pupil’s Perspective

by Dr. Paula Jackson

I carried out some research in which I explored the ideal curriculum from the perspective of the pupil. Although my initial research on the topic was carried out nearly a decade ago, recent repetitions of the study have yielded exactly the same types of responses.

Background: I interviewed and sent out questionnaires to 289 pupils (aged 13-18) from three different countries (USA, Germany and England), ten years ago, and questioned 212 pupils last year with the same questions. The pupils were asked about their current experiences at school, asked to talk about their favorite and least favorite subjects, and asked to design their own curriculum, which we called the “The Ideal Curriculum”.

Findings: Their curriculum focused on 5 central elements.

1) The need for ownership and autonomy. They expressed the need to have their voices heard. They were aware of the various types of knowledge and experiences with which each of them is able to bring into and enrich the classroom experience, and they expressed the desire for opportunities to express that within the classroom context.

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2) Collaboration among and between peers; peer learning and teaching. They recognized their role in an increasingly globalized world, and they expressed a need to connect and understand where it is they stand in relation to their global peers.

3) Dialogue between teacher and pupils where the teacher acts as a facilitator. The pupils all strongly opposed the current dominant structure where the pupils receive information and “knowledge” from the teacher in the form of a passive recipient. They valued the role of the teacher but suggested that it would be more for effective if the teacher also considered their points of view, and engaged more with them; helping them to navigate their educational process, as opposed to dictating it.

4) The incorporation of authentic experiences, real-life experiences into the classroom. This included bringing in mentors or experts in fields of interest to engage with the pupils in discussion.

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5) Interdisciplinary projects. The pupils described the importance of what some refer to as to “project-based learning” or “phenomenon-based teaching”. These are practices, which, instead of being taught separate disciplines of knowledge, such as mathematics or science, pupils engage in activities (and projects) that are related to real-world situations, which enable them to gain a wider interdisciplinary set of skills.

Another notable issue is that many of the pupils questioned the purpose of schooling, asking whom is it really serving and for what. They questioned the value of retaining facts and gaining knowledge that seemed to them to be stripped of meaning or relevance from their daily lives.

They highlighted the necessity of obtaining skills such as collaboration, global understanding, financial literacy, digital literacy and entrepreneurship, just to name a few. These were topics which should have precedence within the school context, as they saw these as necessary and critical skills to develop in order to succeed in life.

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Summary: The pupils in the study certainly know exactly what they want out of their school experience and were very explicit about the ways in which they want to learn and gain skills within the school context.

So, why does school have to be so disjointed from what pupils really need and want?

Is this being done anywhere already?

It seems as if Finland is reforming its educational system–and the way in which the material is taught–in a manner close to the ideal curriculum described above. Their goal is to equip their students to be better prepared in today’s “technological and global society” (Resource: Huffington Post)

Lesson? Perhaps we should listen more to our pupils and integrate them into the various points of decision-making. After all, who is education for?


Dr. Paula Jackson started off her career as a concert pianist and later worked as a consultant and researcher for NGOs, multilateral institutions around the world.

She has initiated a number of social ventures aimed at empowering children and women through creativity and cooking. In 2013, she founded the Ed-tech start-up, Kiddify, a video platform for kids by kids to share their skills and knowledge with each other. She is passionate about writing for children and young adults. 

One experience in particular motivated her to begin writing books for children. It was an encounter with a little girl who followed her one day as she took a walk through the forest in Eastern Germany. She was intrigued by her dark skin and asked her why It was so dark. She explained to the girl, that, like the flowers in the garden, our skin color also reflects different shades and colors and nuances. The little girl looked up at Paula and gave her a tight hug and a bright smile, expressing how much she loved the beautiful colors in the garden.

Often, it just takes a short moment of heart-felt connection to break down barriers. Jackon’s aim is to create stories that reflect and celebrate diversity while inspiring readers to reflect upon their connection to others.

Jackson’s first book: The Secret Ingredient: The Search for Love, a perfect read for Valentine’s Day, is available in Kindle, Paperback, and Hardcover formats. Published January 2019. Look for her other books at the links below.

Children will understand that love has many forms and translates across cultures. Bim and Bop need to find the secret ingredient for their Mum’s Birthday today. But, what does it look like, and where shall they find it?

Follow Paula Jackson on social media:

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