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Concept, definition and role of a curriculum

The concept of the curriculum refers to the variety of aims, objectives or directions of development that are set for teaching and learning; in other words, towards the knowledge, skills and attitudes or the ways of behaviour that the student is expected to learn (Salo, 1994). The construction of the goals, aims and objectives is based on the principles and concepts of society and its requirements, as well as its culture. According to Jarlind (1998), the aims of the curriculum are to guide and monitor the teaching and learning processes. The curriculum is the most important tool for college managers and teachers to plan and implement the defined training activities. It guides and assists in identifying the human and physical resources that are required to meet the training objectives, as well as providing the orientation basis for students and teachers to be familiar with their present and future role in the development of the forestry sector. Furthermore, the curriculum should be "owned " by other users, e.g. stakeholders involved in the curriculum development processes.

The word "curriculum" has been addressed and defined by many; to date a definite version has not been produced. Among the many definitions proposed:

According to the author, a curriculum is a contract between the learners and an institution which defines what role should be played by each partner to satisfy the needs of all stakeholders. When applied to education, it means "all the activities that the students do, especially those they need to pursue if they are to finish the course and to achieve the goal. It is the path they have to follow" (Rogers and Taylor in FAO, 1998). Salo (1994) indicated that, a curriculum plays a crucial role in the planning processes of education and serves the following purposes:

Traditional curricula in Africa and their role in the perception of forest resource management

In Africa, during the colonial period, forests were regarded as a source of wood whereas the role of the communities who needed the forest resources was completely disregarded. In the 1950s and 1960s and after countries obtained independence, the national forestry staff inherited the same ideologies and attitudes of the traditional foresters. During that time, the former FAO Division of Forestry and Forest Products (now the Forestry Department) described the forest as "essentially a wood-producing unit ... its treatment must be conditioned by the technical properties of its products for their industrial utilization" (O'Keefe, 1995).

For a long time the local people for long period had been actively managing their environment. But the major problem is that foresters and other professionals are not trained to see the reality; that the people actively create and manage their own environment. Foresters and other rural development experts are technically myopic (O'Keefe, 1995). Sulieman (1996) cites Van Den Ban and Hawkins (1988) who defined perception as "the process by which we receive information or stimuli from our environment and transform it into psychological awareness". He further argued that traditional forestry scientists used to perceive forestry problems merely as technical problems and not as a social construct. This perception is strongly related to the nature of the technical training traditional foresters were following. A senior extension officer in the Sudan stated, "most of what I studied at the university needed to be revised to suit participation, small-scale community forestry and agroforestry practices. I studied nothing about social subjects. I felt that even our professional classification of forest products into major and minor needed to be changed up-side-down".

A graduate is a reflection of the kind of curriculum he/she has been following during the course of his/her studies. The curriculum is the one to direct and shape the future attitude of a graduate towards the resource he/she is going to manage.

How was the curriculum built in the past

The previous discussion indicates the kind of curriculum that traditional foresters were following. This type of curriculum that completely ignored the social sciences and concentrated merely on the technical forestry activities is not considered to be adequate. It was generally produced or developed by departments without prior consultation with the stakeholders or, in many cases, was produced by individuals (a consultant or head of department). Such a curriculum does not regard the forestry sector as a system where different stakeholders are involved and have a role to play. Consequently, the outcome was a curriculum that:

How was the curriculum planned in the past?

  • Curriculum adoption and adaptation from a developed country situation
  • Only policy-makers and educators involved
  • Often a top-down approach, with institutions as implementers only (particularly at the college level)

In most countries in Africa, it is difficult to find a well-developed curriculum that addresses the real needs of the country concerned. When discussing the structure and procedure of curriculum development in the Sudan, Sulieman (1996) confirmed that: what was found were lists of subjects taught together with a short description of these subjects. Jarlind (1998) confirmed these findings and carried out a more comprehensive study on the situation of curricula in the SADC region before the beginning of the SADC AAA 5.9 programme. In his analysis he made the following conclusions:

Because of this kind of perception, foresters deprived the different actors of the knowledge and skills they have gained through long experience, which would have been very valuable if utilized in managing the forest resources. This situation created friction between foresters and communities. Foresters tend to regard the communities as troublemakers who do not know how to manage forest resources, while communities consider foresters as police officers guarding "government resources" and not the communities' resources.

The failure of all actors or end users to understand the interdisciplinary nature of forest resource management has contributed significantly to the major environmental problems faced locally, nationally and internationally. An example is the implication posed by the current pattern of desertification to such global environmental issues as global warming and loss of biodiversity and genetic resources.

Only recently, after the widespread destruction of forest resources, have foresters realized what is wrong. Sulieman (1996) stated that the forestry authorities in the Sudan, after 80 years, realized that taking control over the management of forest resources away from villages or communities is neither the most effective nor the most efficient way to manage forest resources. In the 1970s and 1980s, some changes occurred here and there and forestry started to move away from the traditional "forest is a wood" orientation to include economic, social and environmental concerns. The changes reflect broad shifts in global perception and expectations, which were given a common focus in the recent Brundtland Commission report (World Commission on Environmental Development). There is a need for new forestry initiatives that contribute to a participatory, equitable, decentralized and self-sustaining process of rural development throughout the developing world (O'Keefe, 1995). According to O'Keefe, the basic changes in the orientation of forestry are:



Working in the interest of the forest department

Forest management

Protection of the forest

Seedlings produced and distributed

Plantation management

Timber and pulp trees

Standard forest management system

Working in the interest of the rural people

Forest extension work

Involving people in management of woody biomass in and outside gazetted forest area

Facilitating local tree regeneration

Total woody biomass management

Multipurpose trees and shrubs

System that builds on locally existing knowledge of trees and forest management

Then comes the question: What role could educational institutions play to alleviate such situations?

No doubt forestry education and training institutions will have a significant role to play to correct this situation, through participatory curriculum development, by addressing the real needs of the country concerned. Forestry education institutions should take the initiative and collaborate with the other actors in order to facilitate this change which requires a new approach to forestry education and training.

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