There is, and ought to be, a governing element of intentionality in the formulation of educational curricula. Some curriculum experts are obsessed with the idea of the infamous dichotomy between what they construe and construct as ‘open’ and ‘hidden’ curricula. It is a question of integrity – there is no need for secrecy or apology. The supreme concern is human flourishing and the development of national character worthy of the country’s heritage and befitting its aspiration for the future.
The great civilisations of the world evolved not as a consequence of some maverick act but as a function of sustained dialogue between the deep integral self of the nation and the visionaries who could at once appreciate the past, affirm the present and apprehend the emerging signs of the future. The blossoming of human genius and the flourishing of the society in diverse spheres was the happy fruition of a dream of the desirable and the edifying, beyond the present and the pressing.
The building of an educational curriculum follows much the same process as the envisioning of a nation’s dream and charting out a pathway to achieve the collective goal. This conscious, credible and committed engagement with the finest elements that constitute the sovereign self of the nation coupled with due appreciation for innovation and enterprise give to societies the benefit of vital points of reference as well as important alerts to the signs of changing times.
But when the incentive for change comes from sources that seek immediate gratification unguided by anything uplifting or ethical, the long-term interests of the society and the collective well-being of the citizens run the risk of being shortchanged for smart expediency and quick results. While it is important to read the writing on the wall, countries around the world are beginning to realise the limitations of the industrial or factory model of education that sees young people largely as potential resources only to be welcomed if they are ready to fill their specified needs on day one.
But education has far larger and nobler goals than merely fitting out young men and women for the job market as important as it is. Education is the single largest sector charged with the responsibility of preparing well-integrated, harmoniously developed, thoughtful individuals whose motivation comes from a deep personal desire to evolve to ever higher levels of humanity and to make a positive difference to the society.
It is instructive to recall the 1996 UNESCO Report prepared by the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century, chaired by Jacques Delors, titled “The Treasure Within”, that enshrines the four pillars of education: learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together, and learning to be. Taken together, these expectations of education are compelling and relevant not only to the field of education but to the process of living as members of the society in general if we wish to build a harmonious and happy nation for all to live in.
Life is about being as much as it is about doing. As a collective entity, the nation has its vital constituent elements that create its wholeness, its integrity and its supreme sovereign self. Undue emphasis on one element or on a few areas to the neglect of others can result in a distortion of the personality of the individual, thereby distorting the overall personality of the society in the long run.
The nation is more than the employment market as significant as it may be. And, I know so many of our highly motivated youth running from pillar to post looking for a job that invariably is only available to the lucky few who can produce evidence of stipulated years of experience, even when they have had little space to gain it! The nation is a complex system of myriad elements that together give to it its being and its personality. They have their legitimate claim as necessary components of the nation’s personality.
As for the education system to be led by the cut-throat competition of the open market, I often wish for it to cultivate and sustain a more human and humane face that believes in fitting as many as possible to survive and flourish rather than pushing aggressively for the survival of the fittest regardless of whatever impact such an impulse may have on the long-term interest of the society!
In a setting like ours where we follow a common national curriculum in public as well private institutions, all the way from pre-primary to pre-university, the State education system takes upon itself a monumental responsibility to gain a deep understanding of the core elements that have been distilled through time to form the bedrock of the country’s identity and character as well as to respond to the needs of the moment and indeed to look beyond to the probable direction of the future.
This is a tall order. But to pit the whole process of many years of learning involving the most precious segment of the population for extended periods of time mainly to respond to the claim of the constantly changing, utilitarian labour market is to ignore the vital need to provide a balanced, ennobling, and humanising experience where citizens and leaders of the nation are prepared.
The intergenerational values and behaviours that children and youth learn while at home, school and institutions of learning provide much-needed security and reassurance in the face of uncertainty that changing times impose on societies and peoples. Many nations have successfully achieved the necessary balance between the vital claims of the diverse elements that constitute the collective life of the society.
It is deeply gratifying to note the heart-felt affirmation of our Green School Model of Education by some of the leading educational thinkers around the world today as an exemplar of holistic learning that addresses the multiple elements in the life of the learner as well as the important claims of the society.
Imagine the general character of a society where a disproportionately large number of young scholars goes through a limited field of learning experiences over a long period of time without concern for the overall physical, intellectual, social, emotional, cultural, aesthetic, scientific, spiritual and ethical balance of the learner! I was concerned when some years ago, for instance, there was a significant drop in the number of higher secondary school students opting for Economics!
As an educator, I have always insisted that the ultimate flower of the process of learning is the cultivation of usefulness and gracefulness, emphasising the active as well as the reflective dimensions of the learner.
The growing tendency in many countries today to do away with academic disciplines that belong to the sphere of the Humanities, the Arts, Ethics, Philosophy, and other more humanising courses is much to be deplored in the face of the many challenges that accompany a narrow, reductionistic GDP-inspired system of education. I was intrigued by some of our own market-induced decisions to limit or do away with some of the courses perceived to be not-so-employment-promising candidates from our tertiary education institutions!
A vital nation-building public service like education should not be viewed from a purely economic viability perspective. A confluence of idealism and realism, harmony between symbolism and pragmatism, sustained tension between vision and down-to-earth application are the stuff that make the entity called the nation. Pitted against an entirely practical rationale, inspiring symbols like the magnificent Tower of Sherubtse, for instance, will be first ones to be voted out by the hard-nosed realist!
When in 2009, the Ministry of Education introduced the all-embracing national education reform initiative inspired by the enlightened vision of the country’s holistic development goal, we resolved on the following vision for our education system to aim for:
…an educated and enlightened society of gyalyong gakid pelzom, at peace with itself, at peace with the world, and in harmony with our Planet Earth, built and sustained by the idealism and the creative enterprise of our citizens.
Whatever its deficiencies, I was pained to see, here and there, a few mangled fragments of that dream when the winds of change tore right through the sails.
It is my prayer that the experts and advisors working on the Royal Kasho will produce a roadmap befitting the farsighted vision of our beloved King and the aspirations of our people.
Curriculum and the development of national character are inseparable twins. Affirming this, all else follows naturally!
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Thakur S Powdyel, former Minister of Education.