Subject-Centered Design Model Curriculum

Definition and Overview

Subject-centered design is a curriculum design approach that focuses on the content of a particular subject matter or discipline. This type of curriculum design is based on the idea that students should learn about the important concepts and ideas in a subject, regardless of their individual interests or learning styles.

The curriculum is organized around a set of “essentials” or “fundamentals” of the subject. The learning activities are designed to help students master the essentials of the subject. The assessment is typically focused on measuring students’ mastery of the essentials of the subject.

Historical Background

The historical background of subject-centered design can be traced back to the classical education systems of ancient civilizations such as Greece and Rome. In these societies, education emphasized the mastery of specific disciplines, such as rhetoric, logic, mathematics, and philosophy. The curriculum was structured around these subjects, and students were expected to acquire a comprehensive understanding of each discipline.

During the Middle Ages, the subject-centered approach continued to be dominant in educational institutions, particularly monastic and cathedral schools. The seven liberal arts, divided into the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and logic) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy), formed the core curriculum. These subjects were believed to cultivate the intellectual abilities necessary for a well-rounded education.

The Renaissance period witnessed a renewed emphasis on the humanities, arts, and sciences. Humanist scholars, such as Erasmus and Thomas More, advocated for the study of classical languages, literature, history, and moral philosophy. This subject-centered approach aimed to develop individuals with broad knowledge and critical thinking skills.

Subject-centered design gained further prominence with the rise of modern education systems in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Industrial Revolution created a demand for specialized knowledge and skills, leading to the establishment of specialized schools and universities focusing on specific disciplines. The curriculum was organized around subjects, and students pursued in-depth study in their chosen field.

In the early 20th century, John Dewey, a prominent educational philosopher, criticized the narrow focus of subject-centered education and advocated for a more holistic approach. Dewey’s progressive education movement emphasized experiential learning, problem-solving, and interdisciplinary connections. This alternative approach, known as learner-centered design or child-centered design, challenged the dominance of subject-centered design but did not replace it entirely.

In the latter half of the 20th century, subject-centered design faced criticism for its compartmentalized approach and fragmentation of knowledge. Critics argued that it hindered students’ ability to make connections across disciplines and failed to address real-world problems effectively. As a response, educational reforms and curriculum frameworks, such as interdisciplinary studies, integrated curriculum, and project-based learning, aimed to integrate subjects and promote a more holistic understanding of knowledge.

Today, educational practices often incorporate a combination of subject-centered and learner-centered approaches, striking a balance between disciplinary expertise and interdisciplinary thinking. The focus is on providing students with both a deep understanding of specific subjects and the ability to apply their knowledge in complex, real-world contexts. Curriculum design continues to evolve, adapting to the changing needs of students and society.


Some main features of Subject-Centered Design Model Curriculum includes:

  • Organization by subjects: In this curriculum design, the educational content is organized and structured around specific subjects such as history, language, mathematics, and so on. Each subject is taught as a separate entity.
  • Subject inclusion based on stage/level: The subjects included in the curriculum are determined according to the different stages or levels of education. For example, subjects like psychology may be introduced at the secondary and senior secondary stages of schooling, rather than in the earlier stages.
  • Gradation of content: The content within each subject is structured based on the level of understanding appropriate for the various stages of education. For instance, complex topics like the law of gravitation may be taught at higher levels of education where students have the necessary foundational knowledge and cognitive abilities to comprehend such concepts. Similarly, simpler concepts like rhymes may be taught in nursery or prep classes, as they align with the cognitive development of young children at that stage.
  • Emphasis on lectures, textbooks, and examinations: The subject-centered approach places importance on listening to lectures, studying textbooks, and preparing for examinations. These practices are considered essential for acquiring knowledge and assessing student performance. Teachers typically aim to cover the prescribed content within a designated timeframe, and both the teacher and students derive satisfaction from successfully learning the subject matter.
  • Mastery of subject matter as a measure of learning: Learning in a subject-based curriculum is often assessed based on how well students have mastered the subject matter. Frequent tests and assessments are administered to gauge the extent of students’ achievement and understanding. The emphasis is on demonstrating proficiency in the specific subjects studied.

Requirements For Implementing A Subject-based Curriculum

Below are the requirements for implementing a subject-based curriculum effectively. 

  • Trained and specialized teachers: Teachers who are knowledgeable and skilled in specific subjects are needed to teach each subject in the curriculum. These teachers should have expertise in their respective fields and be well-versed in effective teaching methods.
  • Separate classrooms: To accommodate different levels and sections, each with its own subject requirements, it is necessary to have dedicated classrooms for each level or section. This allows for focused instruction and an environment conducive to learning.
  • Fixed timetable: A structured timetable is essential to allocating specific time slots for each subject based on its importance or weight age in the curriculum. This ensures that all subjects receive sufficient instructional time and attention.
  • Special arrangements: In addition to regular classroom instruction, subject-based curricula often require additional arrangements for various activities. These may include guidance counseling, physical education classes, educational tours, indoor and outdoor activities, and examinations. Adequate resources, facilities, and scheduling need to be in place to accommodate these activities.
  • Textbooks and guidebooks: Subject curricula necessitate the availability of appropriate textbooks and guidebooks. These resources provide students with the necessary content, explanations, and exercises related to the subjects they are studying. Textbooks serve as a primary source of information, while guidebooks may offer additional support materials, practice questions, or study aids.


Here are some advantages of a subject-based curriculum:

  1. Thorough understanding: A subject-based curriculum provides a comprehensive and in-depth understanding of a particular subject. Students can progress systematically from the basics to more advanced concepts within a defined timeframe.
  1. Fundamental learning: By focusing on specific subjects, students have the opportunity to grasp the fundamental principles and challenges associated with those subjects. This approach helps students build a strong foundation of knowledge and improve their understanding over time.
  1. Higher proficiency and standards: Subject-based curricula often demand higher proficiency from students and provide effective methods to help them achieve high standards or grades. This can lead to enhanced learning outcomes and academic achievement.
  1. Intensive focus: The intentional and intensive focus on specific subject areas in a subject-based curriculum can be beneficial for students. They can delve deeper into the subject matter and develop expertise in their areas of interest or aptitude.
  1. Reinforcement of best practices: Subject-based curricula often reinforce the implementation of effective teaching practices that are already proven to be successful in classrooms. This helps establish these practices as the norm and promotes a consistent and high-quality educational experience.
  1. Flexibility in materials and methods: Teachers have the flexibility to create their own materials using traditional approaches or utilize commercially or locally developed materials and methods. This allows for customization and adaptation to meet the specific needs of the students and the subject matter.
  1. Easy evaluation: Evaluation in subject-based curricula is relatively straightforward. Achievement-based testing, focused on assessing mastery of the subject matter, is the primary form of evaluation. This simplifies the assessment process and provides clarity on students’ understanding and progress.
  1. Security for teachers and students: A subject-based curriculum provides a sense of security for both teachers and students. Teachers know what is expected of them in terms of teaching the subject, while students are aware of the content they need to cover. This consistency and clarity create a stable learning environment.


Here are some disadvantages associated with a subject-based curriculum:

  1. Lack of effective thinking habits: Critics argue that subject-based curricula often prioritize the mastery of conclusions rather than the processes of critical thinking that lead to those conclusions. This approach may hinder the development of effective thinking habits and promote uncritical acceptance of information.
  1. Ignoring learner interests and activities: Subject-based curricula may have an inefficient arrangement of content that fails to consider the interests and activities of the learners. The organization of subjects is often based on logical categorization rather than the learner’s engagement and motivation.
  1. Emphasis on memorization: In some cases, the focus on passing tests or assessments in a subject-based curriculum leads students to prioritize memorization of information rather than genuine understanding and learning. This can limit their ability to apply knowledge in practical contexts.
  1. Lack of integration: Subject-based curricula often compartmentalize knowledge, failing to teach students how to integrate different aspects of their knowledge in a holistic manner. This can result in fragmented understanding and hinder the development of interdisciplinary skills.
  1. Discouragement of diverse perspectives: Subject-based curricula may discourage students from entertaining different points of view that diverge from the content presented in textbooks or by teachers. This limits critical thinking and stifles creativity and independent thought.
  1. Lack of contextual understanding: Students may struggle to understand the wider context of what they are learning in a subject-based curriculum. They may not fully grasp the purpose, applications, or broader implications of their learning, leading to a lack of motivation and engagement.
  1. Negative consequences of grading and assessment: In some schools, the careless implementation of grading and assessment in a subject-based curriculum can have negative consequences for students. Excessive focus on grades may hinder moral development and overall growth.
  1. Time constraints and material coverage: A subject-based curriculum often places pressure on teachers and students to cover a specified amount of material within a given timeframe, regardless of its difficulty or students’ comprehension. This can lead to rushed learning and a lack of deep understanding.
  1. Teacher-centered approach: In subject-based curricula, the teacher tends to exercise control over students’ experiences, activities, and conduct. The decision-making process may exclude student participation in planning and evaluation. The emphasis on stern discipline can create a rigid classroom atmosphere that may not be conducive to optimal learning.

Subject-Centered Design vs. Other Curriculum Models

Subject-centered design is one of several curriculum models used in education. Let’s explore how it compares to other prominent curriculum models:

  • Learner-Centered Design

Learner-centered design, also known as child-centered design or student-centered design, places the learner at the center of the educational process. It emphasizes the individual needs, interests, and strengths of students. Unlike subject-centered design, which organizes the curriculum around specific subjects, learner-centered design focuses on personalized learning experiences, active engagement, and student autonomy. It aims to foster critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and self-directed learning. Learner-centered design often encourages interdisciplinary connections and project-based learning, allowing students to explore topics of interest and connect their learning across different subject areas.

  • Problem-Based Learning

Problem-based learning is an instructional approach that focuses on authentic, real-world problems as the driving force for learning. Instead of organizing the curriculum around subjects, PBL revolves around the investigation and resolution of complex, open-ended problems. Students work collaboratively to analyze the problem, gather information, propose solutions, and reflect on their learning. PBL promotes critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and the application of knowledge in practical contexts. It often integrates multiple subject areas and encourages interdisciplinary thinking.

  • Integrated Curriculum

An integrated curriculum aims to break down the traditional barriers between subject areas by connecting related concepts and skills across disciplines. It seeks to provide a more holistic and meaningful educational experience by showing the interconnections between different subjects. Integrated curriculum models can take various forms, such as thematic units, interdisciplinary projects, or curriculum frameworks that emphasize cross-curricular skills and competencies. The integrated curriculum promotes interdisciplinary thinking, helps students see the relevance of their learning, and encourages the application of knowledge in diverse contexts.

  • Spiral Curriculum

The spiral curriculum model, introduced by psychologist Jerome Bruner, suggests that learning should occur in a progressive and iterative manner. It emphasizes revisiting topics and concepts over time, with each iteration building upon previous knowledge and adding depth and complexity. The curriculum spirals through subject matter, continually revisiting and expanding upon essential ideas. This approach aims to foster a deeper understanding of concepts and encourages students to make connections between different parts of the curriculum.

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