top of page

Understanding the Basics: What is a Curriculum?

Welcome to the first installment of our series aimed at "Understanding Curriculum Basics." As part of your educational journey, whether you're a student, parent, or educator, you've undoubtedly come across the term 'curriculum.' But what does it actually mean? The curriculum is a cornerstone of the learning process, shaping every aspect of education, from the knowledge imparted to the skills developed. As we embark on this journey to demystify the educational landscape in South Africa, our first stop is comprehending the basic premise of a curriculum. Why is it important? What purpose does it serve? Let's delve in and start exploring the foundation of any effective educational system - the curriculum.

Definition of a Curriculum

When embarking on the process of "Understanding Curriculum Basics," it's vital to start with a clear definition. In its simplest form, a curriculum refers to the lessons and academic content taught in a school or a specific course or program. But a curriculum is much more than just a list of topics or a sequence of lessons.

Diving deeper, we see that a curriculum encompasses the entire scope of an educational experience. It includes the knowledge and skills students are expected to learn, the methods teachers employ to facilitate learning, the resources used, and even the assessments that evaluate a student's understanding.

So, when we talk about a curriculum, we are referring to a detailed plan that outlines what students should know and be able to do at the end of a specific period of instruction, whether that's a single lesson, a school term, or an entire academic year. This understanding forms the bedrock for our future exploration into the specifics of the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) used in South Africa.

Purpose of a Curriculum

Understanding curriculum basics means appreciating its multifaceted role in education. The purpose of a curriculum extends beyond just structuring the academic content.

A curriculum serves as a roadmap for both teachers and students. For teachers, it provides a detailed guide on the teaching process, from the knowledge to be imparted, and the skills to be honed, to the appropriate teaching methodologies and resources to be used. This assists in effective planning and consistent delivery of lessons.

For students, the curriculum lays out clear expectations. It outlines what they are required to learn and the competencies they are expected to develop. This clarity aids in structuring their studies and managing their academic progress effectively.

Beyond the classroom, a curriculum serves to align education with societal needs. It helps equip students with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to navigate and contribute to the world. A well-rounded curriculum fosters intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, and problem-solving abilities in students, preparing them for future academic pursuits, careers, and civic responsibilities.

In the broader educational landscape, a curriculum provides a standard against which student achievement and school performance can be measured. This ensures consistency and fairness in education, paving the way for comparative assessments and interventions if necessary.

In essence, a curriculum is a blueprint for learning, a tool that helps bring coherence to the process of education. As we navigate through the series, we will explore how these principles underpin the CAPS curriculum in South Africa.

Types of Curriculum

To truly grasp the concept of "Understanding Curriculum Basics", it is important to be aware of the different types of curricula that exist in the educational landscape.

Explicit Curriculum

This is the formal, official, public academic program of study that defines what students are expected to know and be able to do after the successful completion of each grade. It includes specific learning objectives, instructional materials, and assessments.

Hidden Curriculum

This unofficial, informal curriculum refers to the lessons learned and skills acquired outside of the formal educational program, such as values, beliefs, attitudes, and social skills. These lessons may not be explicitly planned but they have a significant impact on a student's personal development.

Null Curriculum

This is the curriculum that schools do not teach. It refers to knowledge areas or subjects deliberately excluded from the explicit curriculum, often due to a lack of resources, time, or perceived importance. The absence of these subjects sends its own message about what society deems valuable or unimportant.

Understanding these types of curricula provides a more comprehensive view of what education entails. As we dive deeper into the series, we'll see how these types of curriculum manifest in the structure and implementation of the CAPS curriculum in South Africa.

The Role of Curriculum in Learning

The role of a curriculum in the learning process cannot be overstated, and it's an essential part of "Understanding Curriculum Basics". It's not merely a document outlining what to teach; it's a strategic tool that shapes the entire educational journey of a learner.

Shaping the Learning Experience

A curriculum acts as a framework for delivering knowledge and skills. It defines the learning objectives, selects suitable teaching materials, and sets the pacing of lessons. This structured approach ensures that all students receive a comprehensive, well-rounded education, helping to reduce gaps in understanding and ensure consistent standards of learning.

Contributing to Student's Overall Development

But the role of a curriculum goes beyond academics. A well-designed curriculum considers the holistic development of the student, including intellectual, social, emotional, and physical growth. It incorporates activities and experiences designed to foster critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication skills. It encourages curiosity, exploration, and a love for learning.

Furthermore, the curriculum sets the tone for the kind of citizens we aspire to develop. By inculcating values such as respect, tolerance, responsibility, and empathy, the curriculum contributes to character building and the nurturing of responsible, caring citizens.

As we progress in our series, we will delve into how the CAPS curriculum in South Africa serves these crucial roles, shaping the education landscape and guiding the future of the country's learners.

Importance of a National Curriculum

In the context of "Understanding Curriculum Basics," it's also crucial to comprehend the significance of a national curriculum.

Introduction to a National Curriculum

A national curriculum serves as a collective framework developed at a national level to guide education in a country. It provides an agreed-upon understanding of what students across the country should know and be able to do at various stages of their schooling.

Benefits of a National Curriculum


A national curriculum ensures consistency in the education provided across the country, regardless of geographical location or socio-economic status. It levels the playing field, making certain all students are working towards the same learning outcomes.


With a standard curriculum, it's easier to maintain equitable educational opportunities. Regardless of where they are schooled, students have access to the same body of knowledge and skill development.

Quality Control

A national curriculum helps regulate the quality of education. It sets the bar for what is to be taught and learned, providing a standard against which student achievement and school performance can be measured.

Transition Ease

When students move schools, a national curriculum can ease the transition, as the learning objectives remain the same.

National Identity

It helps foster a sense of national identity. By deciding what historical events, cultural aspects, or societal values are included in the curriculum, a nation can shape the cultural and civic understanding of its future citizens.

As we proceed in our series, we'll explore how these benefits are realized in the implementation of the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) in South Africa.


Through this journey of "Understanding Curriculum Basics," we've explored what a curriculum is, its different types, and the pivotal role it plays in education. We have also emphasized the significance of a national curriculum and the advantages it brings to the educational landscape.

However, this is only the beginning. As we delve deeper into this series, we'll specifically explore the CAPS curriculum - South Africa's national curriculum. We will examine its structure, the role of Umalusi Accredited Examination Boards, and why all schools registered under these boards follow the CAPS curriculum.

So, stay tuned as we unravel the intricacies of the CAPS curriculum and reveal how it contributes to shaping the educational journey of South African students, especially those choosing the flexible and personalized approach of online learning with Shaati Education.

Remember, a deeper understanding of curriculum basics is your first step toward making informed decisions about your educational path. Let's continue this journey together.


bottom of page