Furore over new secondary education curriculum

Mallam Adamu Adamu, Minister of Education

A ‘new’ secondary school curriculum has been the subject of controversy lately, as an alleged downgrading or outright removal of the Christian Religious Knowledge has inflamed religious sensibilities. LAOLU HAROLDS, NAZA OKOLI, CLEMENT IDOKO and MODUPE GEORGE write.

 

IT is yet unclear what really triggered the ongoing ruckus over the status of some subjects in the nation’s secondary school curriculum, or why it is happening now. But whatever it was meant to achieve, it has caught the attention of the federal government and all other relevant stakeholders.

No less a person than the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, on Wednesday addressed what appears to be the very core of the uproar: the alleged removal (or downgrading) of the Christian Religious Knowledge from the curriculum in favour of the Islamic Religious Knowledge.

The claims on this development have been conflicting lately. While some have alleged that the federal government had ‘merged’ CRK and IRK in the new curriculum, others have accused President Muhammadu-led administration of tactically “removing” CRK, as part of an Islamisation agenda.

However, the federal government, has again denied ever downgrading or removing any religious study from the curriculum, stating, rather, that both subjects (CRS and IRK) are, indeed, compulsory for students.

Briefing State House correspondents after the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) presided over by acting President Yemi Osinbajo, the minister described those behind the commotion as “mischief makers” who were out “to stoke the embers of religion.”

The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) had, on June 14, visited acting President Osibajo at the State House to complain about an alleged plan to foist the Islamic religion on non-Muslims.

The president of the association, Reverend Samson Ayokunle, who led the delegation, had raised concern that whereas the new curriculum stipulates that Christian Religious Knowledge (CRK) will no longer exist as a subject on its own, Islamic/Arabic Studies and French have been introduced as alternatives.

“This curriculum is the brain-child of the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council, an agency of the Federal Ministry of Education. To us in CAN, its introduction is an ill wind that blows nobody any good for so many reasons,” he told Osinbajo.

But the minister, referring to that visit on Wednesday, said the association had been “misled” and should have confirmed from the Ministry of Education.

 

‘Controversy unnecessary’

Indeed, some of the claims about the new curriculum have been conflicting. While some argue that CRK has been paired with a nebulous ‘Islamic Arabic Studies’ (which NERDC says does not even exist in the curriculum) and French Language as compulsory subjects from which a student would have to choose one, others claim that both CRK and IRK are now just themes to be studied under Civic Education.

Curiously, many of the teachers who spoke with Nigerian Tribune on Wednesday said they were not even aware of such change in the curriculum.

“At the moment, Civic Education, CRS, and Social Studies are all taught separately,” a teacher in a Lagos public school said.

Also speaking to Nigerian Tribune, the National Secretary of All Nigeria Conference of Principals of Secondary Schools (ANCOPPS), Mr Amos Adekunle Aladeseye, described the controversy as needless, stressing that CRS is still taught in schools across the country.

“We still teach CRS. I just don’t understand why people are raising this issue at all. The minister of education has refuted the claim. We still teach CRS. It is still taught in my school, and I am sure that is the same across the country.

“They just introduced some new subjects in the junior secondary classes, JSS I – III. I think more emphasis is being laid on national and social values at that level – the need for children to understand and appreciate their cultures and values.”

The chairman of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Oyo State chapter, Comrade Niyi Akano, believes the curriculum is not new at all. He particularly likes the fact that it incorporates subjects on entrepreneurial skills to make students have practical and technical knowledge, which would ultimately make them job creators later in the future.

The only issue he has against it is the paucity of teachers to teach these subjects. But more importantly, he expressed worry that some of these subjects are not recognised in the higher institutions of learning.

Comrade Akano said, “For instance, the West African Examinations Council has provision for Civic Education examination; but moving further from this point is a big problem. The subject is not taught in the university; and it is a fantastic subject that is far better than some other subjects.

“I think these are the areas the policy makers should touch before the introduction of these policies. Universities should be carried along, so they can make provision for studying any of these new subjects after O’Level.”

Professor Junaidu

Going by a statement issued on Tuesday by the NERDC and signed by its executive secretary, Professor Ismail Junaidu, the major feature of the curriculum appears to be the grouping of five subjects under the term ‘Religion and National Values Curriculum.

The subjects listed in the statement include: Civic Education, Social Studies, Christian Religious Knowledge, Islamic Studies, and Security Education.

It was silent on the rationale behind the grouping of these subjects, but nowhere does it describe ‘Religion and National Values’ as a single subject. The vastness of the subjects under this category also appears to rule out the possibility that it might have been designed as a single subject.

The statement said, “The management of NERDC hereby reiterates categorically and unequivocally to all Nigerians that the subject offerings (Civic Education, Social Studies, Christian Religious Knowledge, Islamic Studies, and Security Education) under the Religion and National Values Curriculum are distinct, as listed and taught separately on the timetable.

“In this curriculum, no child should be coerced or compelled to learn or be taught in school any religious studies subject but only one (out of the two) that restrictively relates to the belief system professed by the child and his/her parents.”

According to Junaidu, the Basic Education Curriculum, which includes the Christian Religious Knowledge and Islamic Studies Curricula, was approved in 2013 by the National Council on Education (NCE) during the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan.

The NCE is the apex policy making body in education in Nigeria, and is made up of all the 36 states’ commissioners of education and the FCT under the chairmanship of the minister of education.

He 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 Islamic Studies was removed from the curriculum.

“In fact, at the commencement of the present administration, the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, 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 claims peddled on social media platforms and a national daily are, to say the least, speculative, false and unfounded, specifically as regards the Religion and National Values Curriculum.”

Professor Junaidu appealed to “politicians and fifth columnists” to desist from dragging education into the political melee; a development he said was capable of destabilising the education sector and mortgaging the future of upcoming generation of Nigerians.

Former NERDC’s executive secretary, Professor Godswill Obioma, whose administration developed the document, had also explained that the new secondary school curriculum was developed based on the complaints by parents and other relevant stakeholders that students were overloaded in the previous curriculum, and the need to prune down subjects offered by students to 10.

He had explained, during the official launch of the curriculum in 2014, that students must offer five compulsory cross-cutting subjects which include English Language, General Mathematics, Computer Studies/ICT and one trade/ entrepreneurship subject to be selected from a list of 34 approved trade/entrepreneurship subjects.

Four other distinct fields of studies such as Science and Mathematics (Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Further Mathematics), among others, can then be added to the earlier five selected.

Obioma, who is now the Senior Special Assistant (Technical) to the Minister of State for Education, had noted that graduates from the Senior Secondary Education Curriculum are expected to have been equipped for higher education, and also possess the relevant technical, vocational and entrepreneurship skills.

The new curriculum, according to him, was planned to build on the gains of the 9-year Basic Education Curriculum and to connect logically to the learning experiences in the tertiary education.

Commenting on the current outcry over the curriculum, an official at the Federal Ministry of Education (who refused to be named because he was not authorised to speak) also confirmed to Nigerian Tribune that the curriculum that has now become a subject of controversy was drafted and approved by the President Goodluck Jonathan administration.

He said it would be wrong for people to insinuate that it is an Islamisation agenda when the person who was in charge of the agency that produced the curriculum then was a Christian.

“I’m not authorised to speak on this matter, but I have to tell you that Professor Godswill Obioma was the one that oversaw the process and eventual approval of the new Secondary Education Curriculum. The new executive secretary, Mr Junaidu, is only seeing to its implementation,” the source said.

 

‘Curriculum divisive’

But CAN has insisted that there is, indeed, a merging of the two religious subjects, with the Christians handed the short end of the stick. This development it described as an “ungodly time bomb.”

Reverend Ayokunle

It called on the Presidency to direct the Federal Ministry of Education to publish full details of the new curriculum “so everyone can see what it contains.”

Reverend Ayokunle said, “In this curriculum, IRS and CRK will no longer be studied in schools as subjects on their own, but as themes in Civic Education. This undermines the sound moral values these two subjects had imparted in the past on our children which had made us to religiously and ethnically coexist without any tension.

“IRS was equally made available as a subject in another section without any corresponding availability of CRK. Is this not a divisive curriculum that can set the nation on fire? Is this fair to millions of Christians in this nation?”

The Director of Press, Federal Ministry of Education, Mrs Chinenye Ihuoma, had earlier attempted to explain away what she felt was needless controversy, saying the ministry only designed a new subject which merged Civic Education, IRS, CRK and Social Studies into ‘Religion and National Values’.

But the CAN president said her words only confirmed the association’s fear. He cautioned the federal government against using propaganda to address the sensitive issue, as the unity of the country was at stake.

The association, therefore, demanded that the implementation of the curriculum be suspended till a workshop is organised, where all the stakeholders will be well represented.

The Primate of the Anglican Church in Nigeria, Nicholas Okoh, had also said that the ministry of education had no right to ‘merge’ both subjects.

“We recognise our differences, but we call for unity … Let Muslims be Muslims and Christians be Christians,” he was quoted as saying in May.

His view was strongly supported by Ralph Madura, a priest and the secretary-general of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), who said that the so-called merger “would create confusion.”

For Mr Lakin Akintola of the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), the new curriculum reduces the role of religion in national development. He noted that by merging the study of the two biggest religions in the country, the federal government is simply telling the children that religion does not matter.

“If the federal government educates Nigerians without a special place for religion,” he warns, “it will only succeed in producing clever devils.”

The principal of the Sacred Heart Catholic College, Ijebu-Ode, Rev Fr John Ashinwo, said that CRK is still a separate subject taught in the school, but that some topics from these two subjects (CRK and IRK) are taught under Civic Education.

“We have some religious and social topics that are taught under Civic Education, but the way they did it is why people are thinking the policy makers are on the side of Islam.

“They say that Nigeria is a secular state, but you now find out that those who did the policy, in the curriculum, even the topic they bring out for Christianity and their own ideologies are very wrong and negative.

“If you go through what they said about Jesus Christ and other things and what they translated for Mohammed, they are things that could cause war. You also discover that, in a way, the emphasis on Islam is more than Christianity. CAN and the Catholic Church have taken proposals and memorandum to the government to look at it.”

For a chairman of the Association of Private Schools and proprietor, Atorise Group of Schools, Hon. Abidemi Olagoke, the whole controversy could have been avoided if the policy makers had adequately involved all relevant stakeholders in the decision making.

“They need to call stakeholders and seek their view. You don’t just sit down and make policies anyhow; it’s not proper. They need to consider the players as well. Let’s contribute. They just sit down on their own and make policies without consideration for those that will implement them,” Olagoke said.

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