Curricula may be tightly standardized, or may include a high level of instructor or learner autonomy. Many countries have national curricula in primary and secondary education, such as the United Kingdom's National Curriculum.
The word "curriculum" began as a Latin word which means "a race" or "the course of a race" (which in turn derives from the verb currere meaning "to run/to proceed"). The first known use in an educational context is in the Professio Regia, a work by University of Paris professor Petrus Ramus published posthumously in 1576. The term subsequently appears in University of Leiden records in 1582. The word's origins appear closely linked to the Calvinist desire to bring greater order to education.
By the seventeenth century, the University of Glasgow also referred to its "course" of study as a "curriculum", producing the first known use of the term in English in 1633. By the nineteenth century, European universities routinely referred to their curriculum to describe both the complete course of study (as for a degree in surgery) and particular courses and their content.
There is no generally agreed upon definition of curriculum. Some influential definitions combine various elements to describe curriculum as follows:
Curriculum can be ordered into a procedure:
Under some definitions, curriculum is prescriptive, and is based on a more general syllabus which merely specifies what topics must be understood and to what level to achieve a particular grade or standard. The word Syllabus originates from Greek. The Greek meaning of the word basically means a "concise statement or table of the heads of a discourse, the contents of a treatise, the subjects of series of lectures.