Curriculum is a complex educational concept that involves the specific learning standards, tasks, and materials used to organize and teach a particular program or course, as well as the totality of students’ experiences of learning and factors of ideological, social and administrative nature that contribute to the planning of teaching and learning. Therefore, the curriculum is central to any teaching and learning context, and needs to be carefully designed to ensure maximum opportunities for students’ growth and development.
Supported by the Sultan Qaboos University Internal Grant, our project titled “General Education for Omani students’ development: Examination of foundation program contextual factors” addresses the issue of presence and implementation of General Education principles and standards intended for empowering our students and developing them as personalities in the foundation programs of Oman’s tertiary education institutions. Such focus was initiated by two concerns. First, the need for strengthening curricular coherence and, second, the quality of higher education as expressed by researchers and educators. Broadly speaking, the project focuses on a variety of issues and context-specific internal factors related to General Education teaching, learning and outcomes, that can inform decisions and help improve running of the foundation programs in Oman. More specifically, it aims to obtain a comprehensive view about how General Education theories, approaches, models and practices which role is to further elaborate skills, abilities, competencies, and dispositions that compose the learning outcomes are adopted in the context of the foundation programs’ curriculum and its implementation.
The preliminary analysis of the comprehensive curriculum document developed by the Curriculum Unit of the Centre for Preparatory Studies at Sultan Qaboos University shows that the document is truly comprehensive and provides complete guidance to teachers It is comprehensive because it covers all areas of teaching, learning and support services with regard to the English Language, information technology, mathematics and study skills. Firstly, the document lists the different courses offered at the Centre for Preparatory Studies. Secondly, it includes the learning outcomes that are absolutely necessary and extremely important for each level/course under each skill along with the level descriptors. These level descriptors function as benchmarks for achieving the set outcomes at each level. The document also lists the prerequisites for each level/course, the materials used and the testing matrix for each level. The testing matrix includes both formative and summative assessment procedures, weightage and time slots for various assessments. In addition to the outcomes and assessment matrixes, the document also describes the best practices and supporting methodology to be followed. Further, it includes the administrative procedures and rules for both teachers and students.
Research indicates that General Education focuses on such core areas for its objectives, as effective communication, quantitative reasoning and computer literacy. These three areas, in their turn, are constructed on such pillars, as breadth of knowledge, critical thinking, integration of knowledge and social responsibilities. The curriculum of the foundation program at Sultan Qaboos University has immense potential for incorporating principles and standards of General Education that refer to the educational foundation of skills, knowledge, habits of mind, and values and are aimed at preparing students for success in their majors and in their personal and professional lives after graduation. In the context of the foundation program at Sultan Qaboos University, these include, but are not limited to incorporating critical thinking skills in the Comprehensive Curriculum Document and almost all teaching materials, and focusing on the development of critical thinking in students, i.e. thinking that is conscious, voluntary, goal-directed, systematic, analytical, open-minded, truth-seeking, reflective and reasonable. As well as that, the Comprehensive Curriculum Document guides and supports teachers to identify the scope for promoting critical thinking skills of the students. The materials, the suggested methods, the assessment procedures and the facilities provided to enable learning, along with the administrative support, all play an important role in making students better thinkers. Such an endeavor is a significant contribution towards preparing students for their future studies and becoming sensitized citizens of the country. Also, the faculty at the Centre believe that critical thinking plays an important role in cooperative reasoning and constructive tasks, thereby resulting in better learning. According to them, developing students’ critical thinking skills is the key consideration for ensuring student success. There is also a clear understanding that critical thinking can help students acquire knowledge, strengthen arguments they make, improve their analysis, and help them assess and reconstruct meaning. This involves mindful communication, problem solving and freedom from bias. In order to hone these skills, a variety of pedagogical approaches and tasks, which are progressive in nature, have been developed for all six levels of the English language courses in the foundation program offered at the Centre, such as, for example, portfolio-based learning and independent research projects. The implementation of these tasks and activities both creates a motivating classroom dynamic, provides additional support for our students’ linguistic, critical thinking and study skills’ needs and places our students in the position of active learners.