Exploring the Old Concept of Curriculum

Education is a cornerstone of society, shaping minds and molding future generations. Central to education is the concept of curriculum, a term that has evolved over time to reflect changing ideologies, philosophies, and societal needs. This article delves into the historical roots of the old concept of curriculum, tracing its development through different eras and shedding light on its impact on education systems around the world.


The concept of curriculum has ancient origins, emerging from the Latin word “currere,” meaning to run or traverse. In its early days, curriculum was associated with a set course of study, often focused on religious or classical teachings. Over the centuries, the concept underwent transformative shifts, mirroring the changing priorities and paradigms of societies. This article seeks to unearth the layers of the old curriculum concept, exploring its historical progression and influence on education systems.

Ancient Roots: Foundations of Curriculum

In ancient civilizations, education was primarily transmitted through oral traditions and personal mentorship. Curriculum in this era was tailored to the specific needs of the community. Ancient Egypt, for instance, emphasized practical skills such as agriculture and architecture, while the Greeks focused on physical education and intellectual pursuits. Religious teachings also played a significant role, with religious texts forming the core of learning.

Medieval Scholasticism: The Rise of Classical Curriculum

During the medieval period, the curriculum became increasingly intertwined with religious institutions. The trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and logic) and quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy) formed the basis of classical education. The emphasis on classical languages and subjects laid the groundwork for centuries of structured learning. Monastic schools and cathedral schools were centers of education, where scholars focused on religious and classical texts.

In the realm of education, the curriculum serves as a foundational framework that shapes the learning journey of students. | Image: Some students in a classroom of a remote school in an African country
In the realm of education, the curriculum serves as a foundational framework that shapes the learning journey of students. || Image: Some students in a classroom of a remote school in an African country

Enlightenment and Modernity: Shifting Ideals in Curriculum

The Enlightenment era brought a shift in focus from theological teachings to rationalism and secularism. Curriculum expanded to include subjects such as natural sciences, humanities, and social sciences. This era marked the emergence of standardized educational systems in Europe and beyond. The Prussian education system, introduced in the late 18th century, became a model for organizing curriculum based on age groups and subject areas.

Industrial Revolution: Pragmatism and Utility

The Industrial Revolution necessitated a curriculum focused on practical skills relevant to an industrialized society. Technical and vocational education gained prominence, preparing individuals for specific roles in the workforce. Curriculum during this period was closely aligned with economic needs, aiming to create a skilled labor force. This utilitarian approach to education influenced curricular design for decades to come.

Progressive Education: Child-Centric Curriculum

The early 20th century witnessed the rise of progressive education movements, spearheaded by thinkers like John Dewey. The curriculum shifted towards child-centered learning, emphasizing experiential learning, critical thinking, and holistic development. Dewey’s philosophy highlighted the importance of learning by doing, encouraging educators to focus on students’ interests and experiences. This approach transformed curriculum from a set of subjects to a dynamic process tailored to individual students.

Nationalism and Cultural Identity: Curriculum in a Globalizing World

In the wake of decolonization and globalization, countries began redefining their curricula to reflect their unique cultural identities. National histories, languages, and values took center stage, leading to a diverse array of educational frameworks around the world. Curriculum became a tool for shaping national identity and instilling patriotism. This era saw a resurgence of interest in indigenous knowledge and local traditions within educational curricula.

Technological Age: Curriculum in the Digital Era

The advent of the digital age brought about a new dimension to curriculum. Technology integrated into education reshaped the way knowledge is accessed and shared. Online learning, digital resources, and virtual classrooms became integral components of modern curricula. The shift towards blended learning and personalized online platforms challenged traditional notions of classroom-based curriculum delivery, allowing for greater flexibility and customization.


The evolution of the old concept of curriculum reflects the ever-changing landscape of education and societal needs. From ancient oral traditions to digital classrooms, curriculum has been a dynamic force shaping the minds of generations. Understanding this evolution allows us to appreciate the rich history that has led us to the diverse educational systems of today.


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  3. Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education. Macmillan.
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