IN a statement bearing the title “NERDC and the 9 Year Basic Education Curriculum”, published in The Guardian Newspaper of Tuesday, April 26, 2016, the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC) responded to what it described as “certain insinuations and misinformation” regarding the Religion and National Values Curriculum.
According to the NERDC, reactions to this Curriculum have been “speculative, false and unfounded.” Having judged them misinformed and mischievous, the NERDC wrote: “For the avoidance of doubt, the management of the NERDC hereby states categorically and unequivocally to all Nigerians that the Religious Studies and other components of the Religious and National Values Curriculum under Basic Education are distinct.”
The Council’s response completely fails to address serious and glaring deficiencies in the curriculum, and the danger it poses for inter-religious harmony in an already fragile Nigeria. In fact, a careful examination of the contents of the book, Religion and National Value for Junior Secondary Schools 1, published by Heritage Integrated Link simply contradicts the Council’s categorical denial. In one and the same book, to be used by young and fragile minds, can be found “Christian Religion Knowledge” (pages 1-49); immediately followed by “Islamic Studies” (pages 50-81).
This curriculum raises at least two sets of issues. One borders on contents, the other on quality. First, on the issue of contents, although the NERDC told the public that the curriculum was developed with the involvement of “curriculum experts” and “subject specialists”, among others, there are good reasons to question the pedagogical principle that informs including materials to be taught in the two subjects in one and the same book to be placed in the hands of our young pupils. What is a Christian pupil in possession of the book to make of the content of Islamic Studies in one and the same book? And what is a Muslim pupil in possession of the same book to make of the contents of Christian Religious Knowledge in the book. Well founded fears of confusing the minds of our children are simply glossed over by the NERDC’s statement when it said the subject listings “should be taught and studied separately”, and that pupils would not be “coerced or compelled to learn or be taught” any religion other than that professed by the child and his or her parents.
The Council’s argument that the curriculum was put together with the input of “critical stakeholders including policy makers, curriculum experts, subject specialists, teachers, parents, faith based organisations and civil liberty organisations” does not stand. If indeed, these “critical stakeholders” were involved, why is it that reactions to this curriculum have been overwhelmingly negative? Instead of seeing mischief in these reactions, the Council should ask itself if it is carrying along the real stakeholders. There are well-meaning Nigerians—Christians, Muslims and African religionists—whose voices are raised against this curriculum. To simply label them as “peddlers” who “operate from the oblivious side of information” amounts to utter disrespect on the part of a government official even if he is signatory to a document emanating from a government organ referred to as “the Think Tank of Nigerian Education”. Politeness is an attribute of an efficient public servant.
The problem with this curriculum is not just with the table of contents. There is also a problem of quality. The section on Christian Religious Knowledge simply misuses the Bible and ridiculously misrepresents the Christian religion. For example, on page 39 of the book being referred to, one of the roles of the father in the family is to “love his wife or wives as Christ loved the Church”. This is a misrepresentation of what is really said and meant in the Letter to the Ephesians chapter 5, verses 21-33. It would take a reading out of context to interpret the passage as suggesting that Christian marriage can be polygamous.
Apart from polygamy, polyandry, endogamy, exogamy are listed among types of marriage (pages 8-9) in teaching Christian religious knowledge. Treating consequences of lack of repentance (pages 24-25), the author of the section on Christian religious studies listed divine rejection from God, untimely death, and oppression from enemy. In other words, untimely death and or oppression from enemy are symptoms of lack of repentance. Many young Nigerian soldiers have died at war, defending their fatherland. Was their death a consequence of their lack of repentance? What of many who have died in bomb blasts? What of those oppressed by Boko Haram? What has just been listed here is not exhaustive but illustrative of the caricature of Christianity in this curriculum. Who then are the mischiefs, those who express grave concerns about this curriculum or its authors?
The theme of repentance in Christian religion is surely richer than what is being presented in this curriculum. It was in fact the first thing Jesus Christ preached in the first Gospel to be written—the Gospel according to Mark. But it got such superficial treatment in the curriculum because the curriculum largely ignores what Christ teaches. Of the 58 references to Biblical passages, only 17 are taken from the New Testament. Of these 17, only two are direct references to the teachings of Christ. In other words, this curriculum very rarely refers to the teachings of Christ. Can such a curriculum be said to represent the Christian religion? The answer to the question would have been in the affirmative if it were possible to teach Christianity without the teachings of Christ.
The curriculum is totally silent on the death and resurrection of Christ, a belief that is at the heart of the Christian religion. As a result of this deafening silence on the death and resurrection of Christ, in its treatment of the call to obedience (pages 26-29), the curriculum makes no reference to the obedience of Christ who, for the Christian, is the perfect example of obedience.
A good teacher not only knows what to teach, but also to whom it is to be taught, when it is to be taught, and how it is to be taught. These are imperatives of pedagogical prudence. But on each of these scores, the much advertised basic curriculum fails. Its misrepresentation of Christian religion means it is not teaching the right thing. It is not teaching Christianity. Its inclusion of Christian religious studies and Islamic religious studies in one and the same book meant for primary and secondary school pupils, and within each other’s proximity, flies in the face of pedagogical prudence. This abuse of Sacred Scripture is simply intolerable. It bears the potential of breeding religious fanatics in a country that is already overstretched by fanaticism.
The Council concluded its statement by assuring Nigerians that it stands for “integrity and excellence in educational research”. But the arrangement of the contents of the curriculum, the methodological over-ambition of the curriculum, and the poor representation of Christianity in the curriculum all combine to show that the Council has a long distance to cover in order to attain its ideals. And the Council is yet to start the journey.
However, since the Council says it is “very receptive to good suggestions”, it would not be out of place to ask that this Curriculum be discarded. If its intention is to show the relationship between our venerable religious traditions and national values, its severe deficiencies and highly questionable pedagogy make the intention unattainable. But, will the Think Tank of Nigerian Education show intellectual humility and withdraw this problematic curriculum? That is the question.
Cardinal Okogie, Archbishop Emeritus wrote from Lagos.