Influence of Culture on Curriculum Design in Ghana: an Undervalued Factor?
As national contexts vary from each other and educational designers are also challenged to collaborate with various local stakeholders and practitioners e.g. teachers, a context-sensitive approach to curriculum and professional teacher development is necessary to fit the local context and to support local teachers in the adaptation of the curriculum (Rogan & Grayson, 2003). According to Barab and Luehmann (2003) well-intentioned, well-designed curriculum reform programmes have often failed because of a lack of clearly thought-out implementation strategies that take into account the local context. Rogers, Graham, and Mayes (2007) express the need to broaden and deepen our perspective as to changes in models and methods that are needed to facilitate more sensitivity and responsiveness to cultural differences. This study aims to identify the effective characteristics of cultural factors that influence curriculum design activities.
To effectively identify these characteristics, a framework was developed to analyse curriculum design processes on cultural aspects. In a previous study, we analyzed curriculum design models and their sensitivity on cultural influences. Four aspects of curriculum development approaches were identified which reflect recent insights in the role of contextual forces: (1) the creation of a better understanding of the context; (2) design by iterations; (3) sustainable implementation; and (4) the creation of ownership. The relevance of two cultural dimensions described by Hofstede (1980, 2001) and two dimensions described by Hall (Hall, 1959, 1966; Hall & Hall, 1990) were indicated that seem to have their influence on curriculum design processes: (1) Power distance; (2) Collectivism (versus its opposite, individualism; (3) High context (versus its opposite, low context; and (4) Polytime (versus its opposite, monotime). In the study described in the ECER paper, we further elaborate on the use of the framework in the context of polytechnic education in Ghana. Since the upgrading from secondary level to tertiary level education, middle managers (in this study restricted to Heads of department) in the polytechnics face problems related to time, resource, and change management which result in the absence of departmental goals, problems of recruitment and retention of staff, no review of course curricula for the past ten years, and resistance to change (Nsiah-Gyabaah, 2005). By collaboratively designing a professional development program for heads of department from all the polytechnics in Ghana, it was intended to support the heads of department to improve leadership in the core academic management processes in the polytechnics (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, 2005). Based on the outcomes of our analyses to identify cultural factors influencing the design process of the development program, the reliability of the framework will be tested. Therefore, two questions are pertinent for this study: (a) What components of curriculum and professional teacher development are sensitive to cultural factors?; and (b) What is the reliability and generalizability of the framework developed in a previous study for addressing influence of culture in curriculum and teacher development in Ghanaian Polytechnics? In this way, effective characteristics of cultural factors that influence curriculum design activities in international contexts are identified.
A case study approach was decided upon, because of its suitability to study phenomena in their contexts (Yin, 2003). The two consultants who designed and facilitated the implementation of the professional development program as well as 46 Heads of department of all the ten polytechnics participated in the study. The survey in this study was aimed at collecting data by (1) questionnaires distributed among the participants of the program, (2) interviews with the participants and the designers, (3) observations done by the researcher, and (4) documents related to the design of the professional development program. By using multiple research methods, collected data were triangulated (Yin, 2003). Data analysis progressed in a three step approach: classification, pattern analysis for each category of design activities, and the analysis of the patterns on cultural indicators and their valence related to the four cultural dimensions presented in the framework.
This study aimed at identifying the effective characteristics of cultural factors that influence the design process of a professional development program for polytechnic heads of department in Ghana. Based on the collected data related to the development of a professional development program for heads of department in Ghana, culture turned out to have major impact on the political context, the polytechnic structure and processes, the polytechnic curriculum, and participants’ characteristics. The implications of this cultural context on the design process of the professional development program were enormous. Indicators of Power distance and Collectivism were clearly identified in development activities to analyse the context, to support sustainable implementation, and to create stakeholders’ ownership; indicators of Power distance, Collectivism, High context, and Polytime were identified in design activities; and indicators of High context and Polytime in project management activities. Although the designers anticipated on the Ghanaian context to some extent, cultural factors influenced the design process more extensively. The framework developed to analyse curriculum design activities on cultural influences proved to be a useful tool. The outcomes of this study strengthened the validity and reliability of the framework and will be further tested in future studies.
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Rogers, P.C., Graham, C.R. & Mayes, C.T. (2007). Cultural competence and instructional design: Exploration research into the delivery of online instruction cross-culturally. Education technology research development, 55 (2), 197-217.
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. (2005). Application for the award of the project “Building managerial and leadership capacity in polytechnics in Ghana”. Unpublished manuscript.
Yin, R.K. (2003). Case study research: Design and methods. London: Sage.
This proposal is part of a master or doctoral thesis.