The new school curriculum
It is clear from the frightening noise over the newly publicised revised basic education curriculum review that the exercise is too important to be handled in a slipshod manner by a federal government agency without adequate consultation with all the stakeholders, especially parents and the federating states of Nigeria. The exercise being spearheaded by the Federal Ministry of Education in Abuja through its agency, Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC) should be discontinued forthwith because the rationalisations by the Council so far have been more than puerile and the exercise will not serve any public good.
There is no doubt that curriculum review is a necessity but the review needed in this country now is one that should go beyond what is currently being proposed. In other words, the character and content of the current exercise will not lead to development of human capital Nigeria urgently needs for sustainable development.
In the new system developed by the Nigerian Education Research and Development Council (NERDC), which has been touted by its promoters as “intended to be in tandem with international models,” Christian Religious Studies (CRS) and Islamic Religious Studies (IRS), which were hitherto taught separately, are now merged under Religious and National Values (RNV). That integration also embodies subjects such as Civic Education, Social Studies and Security Education. Although government has been curiously taciturn about further details, since the revelation of the integrated Religious and National Values (RNV) complications, adherents of the two major religions in the country and some outraged parents have been expressing negative sentiments. Even public commentators have made calls on government to cancel the new curriculum review. While most skeptics are still wondering why the government would take the people by surprise without due consultation and consideration for fundamental issues such as teacher training for new subjects and throwing in the mix such things as “security education”, the NERDC Executive Secretary, Prof. Ismail Junaid, has sought to allay the fears.
According to the NERDC boss, each of the two religious subjects has been designed to be handled by separate teachers. Curiously, he has blamed what he called “ignorant and greedy publishers” of the text books for the prevailing fuss over the new policy. He said, “in all, we have not changed the contents; the contents are intact…I wouldn’t like to use the word merged, because when you use the word, merging, it would look like you are taking them (religious subjects) as one… As far as the listing is concerned, they (CRS and IRS) are standing as distinct courses, but merged under one subject listing.” He also explained that, “in each of these, we made provisions for periods
to be set aside for teaching CRS, we have periods set aside for IRS, and we have periods set aside for teaching Social Studies. When we developed the curriculum, we also developed the teachers’ guide; and each of these teachers’ guide is separate…”
Expectedly, the present administration has been accused of some hidden agenda in this controversial policy. But the NERDC boss has refuted that, saying that the curriculum was actually reviewed under the immediate past government. He also added that there were consultations with stakeholders and experts before the policy was adopted. But if this was the case, why did the Primate of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) Nicholas Okoh complain that, ‘religion is a very sensitive issue, there is no need to mix Islam with Christianity?” And Secretary-General of the Catholic Bishops Conference too has spoken in a similar vein saying, “we have all sorts of divides, political divides, tribal divides but the religious one is not helping us…”
Despite the claim of consultations, Muslim leaders too are protesting the mixed grill as National Chief Imam, Al-habibiyyah Mosque, Abuja, Ustaaz Fuad Adeyemi said the new education curriculum on religion is a strange policy “that would remove the citizens’ identity as Nigerians.” He then urged government to drop the idea immediately and allow the subjects to remain the way they were.
Meanwhile, the issue is not just about which administration introduced the new curriculum and when. It is about the fact that the people who should benefit from a policy have rejected it outright and this renders any claim of consultation useless at the moment. Times have changed and this is the very first time the policy has been made public. There is no record that parents and other stakeholders were aware of the introduction of the policy since 2012 and 2014 as claimed. Indeed, if the policy framework is that old, why are parents and stakeholders comprising the two major religions diametrically opposed to its introduction? Where and when did the Jonathan government publicly launch the new education policy with such grave implications for national security and development?
All told, the point government has sadly missed in this is that the curriculum Nigeria needs now should be one that is robust and comprehensive enough to trigger national development. Besides, such a review should be left to different states of the federation to handle since education is not on the exclusive legislative list. One of the most frequently discussed concerns in Nigeria today is mismanagement of the nation’s diversity by an over-centralised federal government. Which is why, everyday, there are strident calls on the government of President Buhari to consider the imperative of implementing the 2014 Constitutional Conference Report which has taken care of all these complications in the polity.
Even if any national review of curriculum were to be kick-started, such a review should reflect emphasis on revival of “History”, for instance, as a subject. The implications of scrapping “History” from primary and post-primary school curriculum have been devastating to national identity and memories.
And why should “Security Education” be introduced to Nigerian pupils when there are no teachers to handle such a sensitive subject? “History” as a subject is more important than such frivolity as the nation’s young ones have been made to abandon their rich heritage or culture as embedded in history! A nation loses direction when her children don’t study their past, even the history of vegetation in different regions, herbs that are relevant to natural medicine and all the requisite elements that have always defined Nigeria’s diversity and strength. “Civic Education” too should be expanded to reflect the current reality in the world. It should go beyond current affairs as it should reflect teaching of ethics, etiquette, civic responsibility of individuals and obedience to elders as enshrined in African values. Any new curriculum must be very Nigerian and should teach discipline.
Certainly, Nigeria needs a curriculum review that will recognise all the factors that once made the nation succeed; a curriculum review that will include subjects that enhance entrepreneurship; one that makes for functional education in a way that will involve the use of Nigerian cartoons, audio visuals or software that emphasise our Nigerian-ness. Nigeria needs a curriculum revolution that will trigger education for development.
But how can all of these be achieved without a clear-cut policy framework and a budget for teacher training programme? Nigeria must train the trainers first and the trainers must be part of the best from the nation’s higher schools as it is done in the civilised world. A revival of the old teacher training colleges is, of course, needed. The National Teachers Institute (NTI), Kaduna established in 1981 has proved inadequate for qualitative teacher training. Therefore, since government has started on a wrong premise, it should suspend the new controversial curriculum and restart a process that will lead to a new curriculum that will reflect Nigeria’s need, diversity, culture and, of course, lead to development.