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A curriculum review and its raging controversy

By Iyabo Lawal
29 June 2017   |   4:20 am
His furrowed brow was unmistakable. His passionate message was unequivocal. His body language showed no sign of genuflection. He had not come to the Presidential Villa cap in hand.

Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo

Religion, is a sore point in the nation’s life. Little wonder there has been a controversy following an alleged review of the nation’s school curriculum concerning teaching of religion that adversely affects Christian Religious Knowledge. Head, Education Desk, Iyabo Lawal, writes on the confusion and clarification that trailed the curriculum review.

His furrowed brow was unmistakable. His passionate message was unequivocal. His body language showed no sign of genuflection. He had not come to the Presidential Villa cap in hand.

“We are here to point your attention to a time-bomb, obnoxious, divisive and ungodly secondary school curriculum that the Federal Ministry of Education is introducing into our schools and of which we had earlier complained to the Presidency,” the President of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Rev. Samson Ayokunle, made clear to the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, a couple of days ago.

That salvo might have made a relaxed Osinbajo to become po-faced. But, Ayokunle had just begun.“To us in Christian Association of Nigeria, its introduction is an ill-wind that blows nobody any good for so many reasons. In this curriculum, Islamic and Christian Religious Studies will no longer be studied in schools as subjects on their own but as themes in civic education. This undermines the sound moral values that these two subjects had imparted in the past to our children, which had made us to religiously and ethnically co-exist without any tension.

“It was some three or two decades ago when our education planners started removing the teaching of religious values through the cancellation of morning devotion in schools that violence by youths in different forms began. I was in a meeting with some Muslim leaders where one of them also expressed fears concerning the dangers in the new curriculum. As prophets to the nation, we demand a complete withdrawal and ban of the curriculum,” the CAN president added.

Prior to the furore, education experts have always noted that the national curricula for religious education did not spring from nowhere. The curricula were said to have evolved over time as a reflection of the needs, perceptions and historical development for Nigeria with a population of various ethnic groups.

Religion, it is noted often coincides with the ethnic group, but not always. For example, many Hausa-Fulani in the North are Muslims; many Igbo in the Southeast are Christians; and in the Southwest, there is a delicate balance of people who profess to be Muslims or Christians.

The cry of foul play in the new curriculum, it should be noted, is coming essentially from professed Christian groups and individuals, Ayokunle explained why.“If allowed to be implemented, it would lead us to a godless nation with violence and all forms of ungodliness as the order of the day,” he noted.

But, there is more as he went on to speak his mind and those he represents, to the acting president, who looked on patiently.“Sir, this curriculum went ahead to introduce Islamic Religious Studies in another section together with French and made one of the two compulsory for the student. You are aware that we have very low percentage of French teachers in all our secondary schools in Nigeria. I am sure that over 80 per cent of our secondary schools do not have French teachers at all but have Arabic teachers. 

“The implication is that Christian students would have no choice than to study Islamic studies. If a Christian student voluntarily goes to study Islamic Religious Studies, there is nothing bad in that because some of us in both religions had done that before for better understanding. However, where the student is tactically forced to study it because the alternative subject does not have teacher to teach it, it is a great problem tending towards Islamisation,” he argued.

In the mid-1980’s, some scholars made concerted efforts to replace Islamic and Christian Religious Knowledge with a syllabus called ‘Moral Education.’ Such idea back then raised the question of who would determine what was ‘moral’ and what was ‘immoral.’ Unitedly, Muslims and Christians vehemently kicked against the idea, leaving those who belong to neither of the religions out in the cold.

Recently, a report from Kwara State indicated that a young pupil, said to be a Christian, was severely beaten by a teacher because the pupil refused to take Islamic Religious Studies classes – since there was no option of French or CRK for him. That drew the ire of Ayokunle.

CAN’s grouse also bothers on the claim that IRK is given a full subject status without CRK enjoying similar ranking.“Is this not a divisive curriculum that can set the nation on fire? Is this fair to millions of Christians in this nation?” the cleric asked Osinbajo. Pointedly, Ayokunle accused the Nigerian Educational Research Development Council (NERDC) of creating the confusion and controversy in the current curriculum.

“Then, if I am not mistaking, the contentious religion curriculum was suspended but has again been re-introduced without any review at all. The curriculum is the brain-child of Nigerian Educational Research Council, an agency of the Federal Ministry of Education,” he said. 

However, Ayokunle’s accusation was met with an instant denial by the NERDC.The agency said, “For the avoidance of doubt, the last review of the curriculum was approved in 2013 and implementation commenced in September 2014. In both instances, neither the Christian Religious Knowledge nor the Islamic Studies was removed from the curriculum.

“In fact, at the commencement of the present administration, the Minister of Education sought and obtained the approval of the National Council on Education to make Christian Religious Knowledge compulsory for all Christian students and Islamic Studies compulsory for their Muslim counterparts,” the NERDC Executive Secretary, Prof. Ismail Junaidu, said.

According to him, the subject offerings (Civic Education, Social Studies, Christian Religious Knowledge, Islamic Studies and Security Education) under the Religion and National Values Curriculum are distinct and taught separately on school’s timetable.

Junaidu also promised that no pupil would be forced to learn in school any religious studies not relating to their beliefs.“CRK is still taught in schools; as a separate and distinct subject with the accompanying Teachers’ Guide. There is no subject in the Nigerian School Curriculum called Islamic Arabic Studies as being speculated,” He added, contrary to the claim of Ayokunle.

Not left out in trying to clear the confusion is the Federal Ministry of Education, which also debunked claims that Islamic and Arabic Studies were re-introduced into the curriculum. Few days after the CAN president’s strong words to the acting president, the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, following a Federal Executive Council meeting with Osinbajo, did not hide his displeasure over the matter when he said, “I read in the (news) papers that they asked the acting president to confirm if the report that CRK had been removed from the curriculum is true. There is no truth in that at all. I repeat: no truth in it.

“The national council of education did accept and agreed that the teaching and learning of CRK is compulsory for all Christian students and teaching and learning of Islamic studies is compulsory for all Muslim students. So, you are actually accusing the ministry of the opposite of what it has done? You need to be more responsible in handling the issues especially at this time in history.”

It was a re-echo of what the Director of Press of the ministry, Mrs. Chinenye Ihuoma, had stated earlier.She had said, “The alternation is not from the minister, this is purely from the National Council on Education. Now, a new subject has been introduced, called Religion and National Values. It is a fusion of religion and civics.

“In a case where you have subject combinations in the same period, everyone will attend a class that corresponds with their own religion. Islamic Studies is not standing alone; Islamic Religious Study and Christian Religious Study as well as national values will be taught under a new subject.”

Speaking on the matter, an educationist, Aisha Lemu, had said, “Religion is a very emotive issue in Nigeria and whatever change may be considered to make the teaching of religions in schools promote religious harmony, it must be done with sensitivity and in full consultation with all the stakeholders, otherwise it may backfire.”

In the same vein, former president of the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Prof Michael Omolewa in justifying the relevance of CRK and why it should remain a subject on its own said religious studies helps in character building and assist students to know the value of making the right choices.(a

According to him, CRK as a subject will enable the students to appreciate the value of sacrifice and care for other people while also helping the young mind to appreciate things other than material acquisition.

“By removing CRK, government is already killing the spirit of the young man that needs to be cultivated for a life of nobility, dedication and sacrifice. CRK is larger than Civic Education; it not only prepares one to be a good and responsible citizen but prepares the soul for citizenship in heaven.

Also corroborating this, a retired professor of Social science education, University of Lagos, Prof Bolarinde Obebe said removing religious studies at this point in the nation’s history when we are talking about decadence and corruption taking over the system would do us more harm than good.

Prof Obebe said some state governments are already returning mission schools to their owners in a bid to teach and restore lost values and morals, stressing that proposing the removal of religious studies would destroy the system.

He said, “ At this point when we are preaching the change begins with me slogan, is removing religious studies, which is the bedrock of moral values justifiable? For those of us in our 70s, the content of religious studies built in us a sense of worth.

Besides, the retired don wondered if the needed ingredients for the curriculum review including teachers, content and textbooks have been put in place to pave the way for the take off of the new curriculum.

Nigeria’s chequered history is riddled with pockets of religious riots. But, generally, various religious faithful have learnt to live in peace and cooperation. It is hoped that the present controversy over the removal or otherwise of CRK would not ignite a fresh religious crisis in the cosmopolitan nation.