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Make Education Relevant and Effective: Community-Referenced Curriculum and Instruction

David Baine, Ph.D. Professor emeritus,

Educational Psychology,

University of Alberta, Canada.

Community-referenced curricula and instruction describe the ideal curriculum as defined by many UN publications on Quality Education.  “Preparation for a quality life requires a quality education.”  A quality education, preparing students for life, blends the teaching of academics with teaching the knowledge, skills, and attitudes students require to live effectively in their current and future lives.

Characteristics of a community-referenced curriculum (CRC) are as follows:

  1. A community-referenced curriculum begins with identifying the characteristics of the students for whom a curriculum is to be developed. The purpose is to identify a) the level and types of knowledge, skills and attitudes the students have mastered,

b) Any special needs the students may have with respect to sensory, intellectual, physical, communication, cultural and other influences on performance and learning.  

c) Community-referenced curricula and instruction are personalized depending upon the nature of the students being taught and the demands of the communities in which they live.  

  • A community-referenced curriculum teaches students the skills they need to be successful in their daily lives wherever they live, including refugee camps, rural areas of developing countries, indigenous reservations, urban slums, or central areas of cities like Delhi or London.  
  • A community-referenced curriculum prepares students to prepare for and adapt to contemporary and future changes.  These changes may include changes in technology, industrialization, globalization, global warming, unemployment; mass migration, movement from rural to urban areas, urbanization of rural areas, changes in traditional values, the demise of traditional occupations; as well as changes in environmental, economic and social conditions.
  • A community-referenced curriculum prepares students for the roles they are most likely to meet in their lives, such as parents, employees, family and community members, etc. Preparation involves teaching subjects such as technology literacy, entrepreneurial skills, health care, home and family management, personal empowerment and advocacy; avoiding substance and physical abuse and exploitation, as well as, family and community financial, social and physical demands, parenting skills, dispute avoidance, and resolution, etc. All of these skills may not be taught to any one group of students. The list of skills represents a menu from which specific knowledge and skills may be selected to teach a particular group of students depending on where they currently live and are likely to live in the future.
  • A community-referenced curriculum blends the teaching of academic skills with teaching students to fulfill life’s daily responsibilities without placing undue burdens on either the students or their teachers.
  • Efficient and effective learning is achieved through training teachers in the specialized method of instruction, by using alternative methods of teaching and by carefully editing and merging the academic and functional skills curriculums. Community-referenced curriculum and instruction are designed to be cost-effective and outcome-focussed.

For many schools, the educational innovations described may represent the large change from current methods and as such may seem overwhelming and impossible to achieve. However, a long journey begins with the first step and that step may be small and careful. The ideas discussed in the book may represent long-term goals toward which these steps may be directed. Readers are advised to review the ideas and choose steps that are appropriate to their situation.

The future is complex, challenging and forever changing. If students are to meet the challenges of tomorrow, appropriate, quality education must begin immediately. The future begins now.

A book, Developing Community-Referenced Curricula for Marginalized Communities has been published by Dr. David Baine, Ph.D. Professor Emeritus, Educational Psychology, University of Alberta, Canada. Dr. Baine has worked in rural and urban areas, with regular and special needs students, in many countries throughout the world. He may be contacted by email at

Additional information about Community-Referenced Curricula and Instructional methods can be found at 

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