Europe: Mathematics and Science knowledge base

The SECURE project (Science Education Curriculum Research), having observed that from a global perspective the EU lags behind when it comes to the number of MST (Mathematics, Science and Technology) graduates, sets out to ‘make a significant contribution to European knowledge-based society by providing relevant research data that can help policy makers to improve MST curricula and their implementation throughout the EU in order to prepare children from an early age on for future careers in MST, whilst at the same time making MST more accessible and enjoyable for all children so that they will keep a vivid interest in science and technology and understand the importance of their societal role’ (SECURE, 2010, p. 3). The project has focused on the 5-13 age group as the foundation for interest in MST is laid at an early age, ‘when children are most susceptible for the wonders of the world that surrounds them’ (SECURE, 2010, p. 3). Specifically, the age groups of 5 year olds (5yo), 8 year olds (8yo), 11 year olds (11yo), and 13 year olds (13yo) have been considered in the analysis, as well as their teachers.

The partners in the SECURE project representing their countries are: Austria, Belgium (Flanders), Cyprus, Germany (Saxonia), England, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia and Sweden.

The SECURE project has used part of the typology by Goodlad (1979) and van den Akker (2003) as its conceptual framework, see table 1, as well the spider’s web as a clarifying way to organize the different components of the curriculum (figure 1).


Table 1: Curriculum representations

Intendended Ideal Vision (rationale or basic philosophy underlying a curriculum)
Formal/written Intentions as specified in curriculum documents and/or materials
Implemented Perceived Curriculum as interpreted by its users (especially teachers)
Operational Actual process of teaching and learning (also: curriculum in action)
Attained Experiential Learning experiences as perceived by learners
Learned Resulting learning outcomes of learners


Based on this typology the following research questions have been formulated for this study:

  1. Which MST curriculum documents are available on the national level (subjects, age groups), which components of the curriculum spider web are described in these documents and what is the nature of these descriptions (prescriptive or not)? Ideal – formal/written) objectives, content and methodological approach are formulated in MST curriculum documents at the national level? (ideal - formal/written)
  2. What are interpretations and perceptions of teachers concerning MST curricula? (perceived)
  3. What are experiences of teachers with enacting the MST curricula? (operational)
  4. What are learning experiences of pupils concerning the MST curricula? (experiential)

    Furthermore a fifth research question was formulated, that can be answered using the answers to the first four questions:
  5. Which lessons can be learned from the screening of national curriculum documents, and the interpretations, perceptions and experiences of teachers and pupils?

The project does not focus on the learned curriculum, since this is the focus of other comparative studies like TIMSS and PISA.
A curriculum can be defined as a 'plan for learning' (Taba, 1962). It consists of the following ten components: rationale, aims & objectives, content, learning activities, teacher role, materials and resources, grouping, location, time, and assessment. A clarifying way to visualize the relationship between the various aspects is the so-called curricular spider web (van den Akker, 2003; Thijs & van den Akker, 2009) (see Figure 1).



Figure 1 – curricular spider’s web (van den Akker, 2003)
The research instruments developed by SLO were organized using the spider web elements.