Syllabus and Curriculum? Same Thing?

Yes? No? Maybe…?

In my 10 years working as an educator, I have encountered many that are oblivious to the differences between syllabus and curriculum. This is especially true when I talk to parents and they tend to mix the words around thinking it gives the same meaning. It is one of those scenarios where people confuse terms with similar meaning like admit and confess or belief and faith.

That said, I decided to shed some light into this dark room of confusion! Take a look at the table below…

Difference between Syllabus and Curriculum1 2



General meaning Referring to content that covers portion of concepts in a subject Content that is applicable overall, used in a system or course
Purpose (set for?) A subject A course or educational system
Nature of word Descriptive Prescriptive
Range covered Narrow and specific Wide and holistic
Decided by Teachers, Exam boards, Educators alike Government, Policy Makers, Administration of Institutes
General span Fixed. Generally a year Length of entire course
Conformity Varying for different teachers Standardised for all

While they do share a similar meaning, the biggest difference that we can see is the fact that syllabus places more emphasis on the structure a subject (eg: geography, chemistry, mathematics, etc.) while on the other hand, a curriculum means the structure of a whole institution or course (eg: IGCSE in a particular private school or the Taiwanese National Syllabus in a local school)

Key Differences

To further your understanding, here are a few key differences that parents should know:

  1. Curriculum refers to an entire structure and overall content, like a backbone if you will. Normally, it’s taught in an educational system or a course.
  2. Syllabus is the summary of topics/issues approached within a subject. It is the extension to that backbone previously mentioned.
  3. Curriculum will always have a wider scope than syllabus and it’s also less specific.
  4. Generally, curriculum is not provided to students unless specifically requested for.
  5. Teachers follow curriculum to create a syllabus within a subject to ensure that students take a proper interest in learning that particular subject.
  6. Curriculum is prescriptive to the entire system. It gives directions and dictates teaching methods.
  7. On the other hand, syllabus is descriptive of the curriculum. Zooming in on subjects while satisfying the conditions set by the curriculum.
  8. With the above in mind, it would be correct to assume that a curriculum is decided by the government or an educational institution. The syllabus is instead set by the teachers.

To give you one last example so that we all understand full and well.

School A practices the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum and studies the Malaysian syllabus, which will result in the students sitting for Malaysian-based testing.

School B practices The National Curriculum of Korea but also studies the Malaysian syllabus, which also results in Malaysian-based testing.

The key difference in this scenario since both schools use different curriculums, different pedagogical theories and teaching methods are applied to deliver to the students. However since the syllabus is the same, they are essentially studying the same topics, just in different ways.

Understanding Your Options

In order to ensure you have made the best choice possible, one must first be fully able to differentiate between the choices. The understanding between the differences is important and this can be compared similarly to voting for your favourite political party upon committing the effort required to research their varying stance and goals. Bringing it back, once a person is clear of the definitions of syllabus and curriculum, they can evaluate correctly and choose the different options provided in accordance of preference and goal. This can apply to yourself, those around you or even the society as a whole as once we are able to distinguish, we gain the ability to make a smarter choice to benefit the cause (which in this case is education). I, myself believe in the more modern method which involves more practical approaches (eg: Ontario Curriculum), using the world as a classroom as learning never stops. However, Some may choose to believe otherwise and prefer a classical approach, banking on its proven long time effectiveness (eg: Taiwanese National Curriculum). In conclusion, we all differ in terms of preference and being aware of the varying descriptions empowers us through providing clarity.

Choice when given to us, is only a beauty when we are able to differentiate between the options.
When one is unable to see the differences in things, a choice made blindly is no choice at all.

In BeED, we understand the importance of variety and we embrace the difference of all with an open attitude. Our platform is flexible and versatile to different types of education thus allowing the luxury of choice to both our contributors and learners. Find out more about this at

1 S, Surbhi. “Difference Between Syllabus and Curriculum.” Key Differences. N.p., 23 Nov. 2015. Web. 17 Jan. 2017.
2 Lee, Kosha. “Difference Between Syllabus and Curriculum.” Difference Between. N.p., 12 Feb. 2015. Web. 16 Jan. 2017.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s