Issue 4
February 1999













Editorial Staff: 
David Lloyd
Gail Mann 
Ellen Serfaty 
Ann Shlapobersky
Renee Wahl

The Place of National Curriculums 

in International Internet Projects

David Lloyd 


The first teachers to initiate work with Internet in the classroom were a group of "maverick" teachers worldwide--working out of their homes, working with one computer in the school connected to the Internet (usually only to be found in a school office), or out of the school library. 

Teachers first started introducing the Internet into the classroom by having their students write email messages to other students around the world--the beginning of keypal communication. They later moved on to a more ambitious activity--project oriented learning through the Internet.

No thought was given at the time to trying to integrate this Internet activity into the national curriculum. The Internet was considered such a new innovation, hardly understood or recognized by boards or ministries of education and school administrations, that the teachers who used it added it to their personal repertoire of activities. Teachers who usually taught out of the textbook--and did little more than that--didn't feel inclined to try and introduce the Internet into the classroom. The teachers who did feel this inclination were those who were never content with ready-made solutions offered by textbooks and the like, and were always looking for supplemental material to introduce into their classroom. They took to the Internet like a fish takes to water.

The first countries to look at the place of the Internet in the national curriculum were the English speaking countries in which the Internet was more extensively used--among them the United States, Canada and Australia. Teachers in non-English speaking countries were much less concerned with this area, since the Internet was mainly introduced into schools by the English teacher. Since more than 95% of the material on the Internet was still only in English, it was an excellent tool for the EFL/ESL teacher, but held much less relevance to the teachers of other subjects who were teaching in the students’ native language.

But this soon changed. The "Great Linguistic Internet Revolution" which took place a couple of years back, found countries claiming their linguistic independence on the Internet--starting a revolution through which we now find large quantities of web sites and material on the Internet in a wide variety of languages and scripts. Once material could be found in their native language, more and more teachers of subjects other than English in non-English speaking countries began to use the Internet in their classroom. 

So Internet in Education moved from an "underground movement" to one of "supplementary materials and activity"—and what may soon become "mainstream curriculum".

But is this really possible? Let's look at the complexities involved. The Internet has been traditionally associated with the "Global Village". As such, when we think of Internet activity, we think of global communication and collaboration. How then can we speak of integrating the Internet into national curriculums? Whose national curriculum? If ten schools from different countries and hemispheres from around the world decide on a common project in a specific subject area and want to each integrate this project into their National Curriculum, how do they go about doing this? National curriculums tend to be very different. Each is designed to meet the specific needs of the country involved, taking into consideration many more things than simple pedagogical considerations. 

Look at the following page--Curriculum Connections 
You will find how different these national curriculums can be. The math curriculum for elementary school students is significantly different in Australia than it is in the United States. A math text, designed to be used within the mainstream curriculum, and dealing with the use of the Internet in the math classroom, could not be used by both countries. If the different schools involved in this international project really do want to still ensure global collaboration, as well as satisfying the needs of their national Curriculum, the project that they create has to be cleverly flexible. We have already reached this area of flexibility in designing international Internet projects which transcend language barriers, allowing different countries to work with their students in their own native language, while satisfying the project for international communication. However, it appears that accommodating the dictates of a national curriculum is much more complex.

Fortunately for us--the English teachers who started all of this--the dictates of the National Curriculum on international EFL Internet activities are much less relevant. Or are they? Do we work according to international standards? Is the need of the EFL student the same the world over? 

Look at  Standards for Pupils of English: A Curriculum for Israeli Schools at: http://www.w-angle.galil.k12.il/CALL/curriculum/default.html

And then look at similar standards for pupils of English in other non-speaking countries: Is there really enough of a common denominator to work on Internet projects together and still adhere to the EFL National Curriculum? I would be interested in hearing comments concerning this point from members of the Ministry.
The problem becomes even more complex when we speak of inter-disciplinary projects. Or maybe it isn't. If a school has reached a point where it can successfully work with inter-disciplinary projects integrated into the school curriculum on a local level, the Internet can then be used in this framework, as the usual traditional taboos have already been broken.

So, what are we left with? Teachers who have always championed Internet use for its rich value of global collaboration and communication (which we won't go into in this article!) fear that integrating the Internet into national curriculums will lead countries to "shut their doors" to international activity. Work with the Internet would be done only at the national level where they have much more control over the process. For some this would be viewed as a big step backwards. For others it will appear as a part of the natural evolution of the Internet as it makes its way into the mainstream curriculum.