Syllabus Design: Situation Analysis

Situation Analysis is an analysis of factors in a curriculum project that is made to assess their potential impact on the project.

These factors may be:

  1. politic
  2. social
  3. economic
  4. institutional

Situation analysis complements the information gathered during needs analysis.

Societal Factor

Second and Foreign Language teaching is a fact in almost every country of the world. Yet countries differ greatly about the role of foreign languages in the community, their status in the curriuculum, educational traditions, experience in language teaching and the expectations that members of the community have for language teaching and learning.

In examining  the impact of societal factors on language teaching, therefore the aim is to determine the impact of groups in the community or society at large on the program. The groups include:

  1. Policy makers in the government
  2. Educational and other government officials
  3. Employers
  4. The business community
  5. Politicians
  6. Tertiary education specialists
  7. Educational organizations
  8. Parents
  9. Citizens
  10. Students

When you are dealing with societal factor, you have to think about the following questions:

  1. What language teaching experience and tradition exist in the country?
  2. How do members of the groups view second languages and second language teaching?
  3. What are the views of parents and students?
  4. What are the views of relevant professionals and teacher trainers?
  5. What impact will it have on different sectors of society?

Project Factors

Curriculum projects are usually produced by a team of people, members of that team are specialist hired for that purpose.

Projects are completed under different constraints of time, resources and personnel and each one of these variables can have a significant impact on the project. There should sufficient members in the project team to do the job and they should represent a balance of skills and expertise. 

If a team of professional takes on a project too ambitious, the quality of the project might be compromised if they don’t have enough time available.

The following project factors needs to be considered:

  1. Who constitute the project and how are they selected?
  2. What are the responsibilities of team members?
  3. How are goals and procedures determined?
  4. What experience do members of the team have?
  5. How do member team regard each other?
  6. What’s the time frame for the project?

Institutional Factors

A language teaching program is usually delivered in an institution such as a university, school  or a language institute. Different institutions create their own culture, that is setting where people emerge for communication, decision making, role relation and conducts

A teaching institutions is a collection of teachers, groups and departments, sometimes working in unison, sometimes with different components functioning independently, or sometimes in a  confrontational  relationship.

Institutions has also their own way of doing things. In some institutions textbooks are the core of the curriculum and all teachers must use the prescribed texts. In other institutions teacher work from course guidelines and supplement them as they see fit, Institutions also differ in the level of their professionalism. In some institutions there is a strong sense of professional commitment  and a culture of quality that influences every aspect of the institution’s operations. In other institutions teacher are not paid for lesson preparation time and consequently teach their classes and then depart for their next teaching assignment, perhaps in another school.

We also have to considered the physical aspects of the institution and the resources available for teaching. Institutional factor relate to these following kind of questions?

  1. What leadership in the school is available to support the change?
  2. What are the school physical resources including classroom facilities, media, technological and library resources?
  3. What are the role of textbooks in the institution?
  4. What problems do teachers face?
  5. What administrative support is available within the school?
  6. What’s the communication like between teachers and the administration?
  7. What kind of reputation the institution have for delivering succesful language programs?
  8. How committed is the institution in attaining excellence?

Teacher factors

Teachers are the key factor in the successful implementation of curriculum changes. Exceptional teacher can often compensate for the poor quality resources and materials they have to work from but inadequately trained teacher might not be able to make effective material no matter how well designed those material are. Teacher may vary according to the following dimensions:

  1. Language proficiency
  2. Teaching expertise
  3. Skills and expertise
  4. Training and qualifications
  5. Morale and motivation
  6. Teaching styles
  7. Belief and principles

In planning a language program, it is therefore important to know the kind of teacher the program will depend on and the kind of teachers needed to make the program achieve its goals. In schools teacher have different kind of responsibilities, some teacher have mentoring and leadership roles, some assist orienting new teachers. Some teacher have heavy teaching lods or work in different institutions.

Questions to think about

  1. What kind of teachers usually  teach in the target schools?
  2. What’s the training, experience and motivation of teachers?
  3. How proficient are teachers?
  4. What kind of beliefs teachers typically hold?
  5. What teacher loads do teacher have?
  6. What are some teaching methods teacher use?

Learner Factors

Learners are key participants in curriculum development projects and it is essential to collect as much information as possible about them before the project  begins. Here the focus in on other potential  relevant factors such as learner’s backgrounds, expectations, beliefs  and preferred learning styles. The effectiveness of a language programs will be dictated as much as by the attitudes and expectations of the learners as by the specifications of the official curriculum. Learners have their own agendas in the language lessons they attend. Learners may affect the outcome of a project in unexpected ways

 Relevant learner factors are the following:

  1. What are the learners’ past language experiences?
  2. How motivated are the learners to learn English?
  3. What are the expectations for the program?
  4. What type of learning approach do they favor?
  5. What expectation do they have for their learners?

Adoption Factors

Any attemp to introduce a new curriculum, syllabus or set materials must take into account the relatively ease of introducing change into the system. Curriculum changes are of many different kinds, they may affect teacher’s pedagogical values and beliefs and understanding of the nature of language and second language learning, or their classroom practices and their use of teaching materials

The following questions need to be considered:

  1. What advantages does the curriculum change offer?
  2. Is the use of innovation consistent with existing beliefs attitudes, organization and practice within the classroom?
  3. Is the innovation very complicated and difficult to understand?
  4. How clear and practical lis it?

Situations to Analyze

Example 1: A new state textbook series is prepared by the ministry of education in an EFL country. The series assumes a very different type of methodology from that currently used in schools because it is less teaching centered and more experientially based. When the program is introduced, a number of problems quickly emerge: teachers find the materials difficult to use and unsuitable for large classes; some of the content in the materials is thought to be unsuitable for the target population.

Example 2: English is being introduced at the elementary level for the first time in a country. A teacher-training program is set in place to prepare teachers for teaching at this level. To provide the training, local teacher trainers are hired and given a “training-of-trainers course” by a foreign expert. However, a number of the local trainers are found to have very traditional views about teacher education and are opposed to the training model being used in the training course. Once they return to their own training centers, they try to use their own training principles that are not consistent with the philosophy of the new course.

Example 3: A private institute in an EFL country offers an intermediate-level conversation course. Teachers in the course make extensive use of fluency activities, including pair and group activities, role plays, songs and games, and discussion activities. These activities are thought to reflect current views on second language acquisition. However, the first cohort of learners through the program are very critical of it because they cannot see the point of many of the classroom activities they were asked to take part in. They request more teacher-directed activities and more error correction. “We don’t want to come to class to clap and sing” is a typical student comment.

Example 4: As part of an overall reform of the school curriculum, the curriculum department in an EFL country decides to implement a new task-based approach for teaching across the whole curriculum in all subject areas. The new curriculum involves a greater use of teacher-made criterion-referenced tests that are linked to graded tasks in different subject areas. However, when the plan is introduced to teachers, it meets with great resistance. Teachers are happy with the current curriculum; they have great difficulty understanding the philosophy of the new approach and see it as creating a much heavier workload. The teachers’ union organizes a number of teachers’ meetings to discuss and criticize the new curriculum. In the face of public opposition, the curriculum department decides to delay the introduction of the new curriculum and to modify it, despite having spent a large sum of money in developing the curriculum and supporting materials.

Example 5: A new director is appointed to a private language institute. The owners of the institute are concerned at falling student enrollment and feel that the institute’s programs need to be reviewed to make them more competitive and attractive to potential clients. The director prepares an excellent rationale for revamping existing courses, for replacing the textbooks currently in use with more up-to-date texts, and develops a plan for marketing new courses. However, she meets a wall of resistance from teachers who feel that they are undervalued, underpaid, and that proposed changes will not bring any benefits to them.

Example 6: A new English curriculum has been prepared for English at secondary level in an EFL context. The new curriculum is described as a communicative curriculum and downplays the importance of grammar, which traditionally received a strong focus in the English curriculum. When text-books to support the new curriculum are published, concerns are expressed by parents and parents’ groups because they feel that their children “are not being taught the basics” and the textbooks will not provide sufficient preparation for school exams.

Example 7: In an ER country, a new 6-year English course is developed for secondary schools. The course seeks to prepare students both for employment and for entry to English-medium universities. The course is based on an integrated-skills syllabus that was prepared by a group of consultants and materials writers and is carefully reviewed by teachers before it is published. After the course has been in use for two years, however, employers complain that school leavers have insufficient language skills for work purposes.

Example 8: A team of foreign experts under contract to an international funding body is given a contract to write a new series of English textbooks for the state school system in an EFL country. They base themselves in an attractive small town in a rural setting and set up their writing project. They do a series of interviews with educational officials and teachers to determine students’ language needs and make use of the latest thinking on language teaching and textbook design to produce an oral-based language course that reflects the recommended language teaching methodology of the time — Audiolingualism. Textbooks are developed and provided to secondary schools at no cost and teachers are given the choice of using the new books or their old outdated government textbooks. After a period of initial enthusiasm, however, very few teachers end up using the new course and most reverts using the old government-provided textbooks

Manuel Campos, English Professor

Manuel Campos

I am Jose Manuel, English professor and creator of, a blog whose mission is to share lessons for those who want to learn and improve their English