Curriculum reform: more than a textbook update

Image: magele-picture / Adobe Stock

To grow and develop, a system should first identify its own strengths and weaknesses. It is also beneficial to learn from other systems’ practices: this was the premise of the ET 2020 framework for European cooperation. Which curricular reforms have attracted notice in recent years?

Croatia: creating a school for life

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Image: Dubrovnik, Croatia (Spencer Davis /

Rather than getting an immediate launch, the curricular reform “School for Life” first took shape with a new National Curriculum Framework (2015), followed by an ambitious experimental programme (2018-19) involving 74 schools – about 5% of Croatia’s schools.

The main purpose of the experimental programme was to identify effective teaching and learning practices, with teachers given more autonomy in learning design. It was also to pinpoint the risks and shortcomings that the curricular changes may bring about. The focus was not so much on reviewing curricular documents as on assessing the school ecosystem: what conditions would guarantee the best results for the reform?

A special committee composed of educational and evaluation experts was put in charge of examining various school parameters, from equipment and textbooks to teacher training and autonomy. Co-designing was the most important success factor during the programme’s preparation and implementation stages, which tried to engage all major actors: teachers, pupils, expert associates, parents, the Ministry, work groups for implementing the reform, and competent agencies.

The conclusions of this programme are now built into the curricular reform, and special attention is being paid to teacher training, a motivational environment for learning and teaching with the appropriate equipment, and high-quality educational material.

Norway: values and principles for primary and secondary education

Kongsbakken Upper Secondary School, Tromsø, Norway

Image: Kongsbakken Upper Secondary School - Tromsø, Norway (Kirk K /

In its first major educational reform in 14 years, Norway put into effect a new core curriculum and new subject curricula in the autumn of 2020. One of the main aims of the reform is to stress key elements of the core curriculum in each subject, thus improving the links between them.

The most noteworthy changes include:

  • The introduction of three interdisciplinary topics to flag up important social challenges: health and life skills, democracy and citizenship, and sustainable development
  • More hands-on practice and exploration in several subjects
  • Renewed emphasis on critical thinking and a critical approach to sources
  • Play-based learning for the youngest children
  • Expansion of digital skills, programming and technology
  • Reduction of the number of subject competences, allowing for more in-depth learning

Support materials in Norwegian have been developed to help educators through the transition stage, which is expected to last three years.

Portugal: curricular flexibility and autonomy

Gafanha da Encarnação, Portugal

Image: Gafanha da Encarnação, Portugal (Héctor Martínez /

Portugal began the process of education reform by analysing  which values and competences  this  generation of pupils should have in order to thrive in a global society. These were then codified in the 2017 document Students’ Profile by the End of Compulsory Schooling.

After establishing this educational vision, the government launched the new Essential Core curriculum to address curriculum overload and support deeper learning. It also invited professional societies such as the Maths Teachers Association and the Portuguese Association of English Teachers to determine a common foundation of competences that all students should develop.

A particular feature of the Portuguese approach is the Project for Autonomy and Curriculum Flexibility (PACF). This project tackled the implementation and evaluation of the curriculum and sought to give stakeholders a sense of ownership. For example, PACF granted schools voluntary autonomy over certain curricular and pedagogical areas, so they could design learning experiences in line with the aims of the student profile. This might mean, for instance, tailoring lessons and practices to non-native Portuguese speakers or students at risk of dropping out. It remains to be seen how this approach can coexist with the existing centralised governance of the education system, but the outlook is positive, according to OECD.

Several other countries are rethinking their curriculum! Read more about:

To discover ongoing and past EU-funded projects in school education, please go to the Erasmus+ Project Results Platform.