By PROFESSOR SUBRAMANI
This paper will argue that before we can probe the subject of aligning national curriculum to development needs, it is imperative to abandon any internally focalised viewpoint and deconstruct the two components in the theme ‘curriculum’ and ‘national’ as problems. Educators have recognized for some time that Fiji’s school curriculum, and this may also be true of tertiary curriculum, is still ‘perceived to be removed from real life’. I’m quoting here from the Report of Fiji islands Education Commission 2000. The call has been for a responsive curriculum that incorporates experiences of real life that the communities have actually lived through and are currently enduring.
The idea of the nation or nation-ness is even more problematic because if nation is, in the words of Benedict Anderson, who pioneered definition of the subject, is an ‘imagined political community’ then Fiji’s communities have never had the opportunity to imagine the nation collectively. Of course there has been ‘ethnic nationalism’, after 1987 for instance, but the nation hasn’t been adequately imagined as alliance among communities of Fiji. There is perhaps a new spirit of solidarity where different segments of society—especially those for whom a sense belonging was a vexatious issue– are reclaiming the nation after 2014 democratic elections. It is a suitable moment to interrogate the emerging national consciousness.
A discursive style is adopted for this paper, largely theoretical in nature, because this mode of discussion provides the necessary space for such critical enquiry. Theory has that sanction to question any facile understanding and initiate analysis that would de-stabilize the subject in order that it may be viewed from alternative perspectives. We know we cannot change reality at will; however we can transform it in the realm of theory. Theory is where we exercise our creative vision to discover and design an ideal or utopian universe. It is useful to reiterate William Arthur Ward’s often quoted words, “If we can imagine it we can create it. If you can dream it, you can become it. ” Theory offers us that context to re-imagine the nation, identify its needs and propose a curriculum allied to it.
Both the concepts ‘nation’ and ‘curriculum’ have preconceived meanings; to de-familiarise them would entail making what is well-established seem unfamiliar so that it can be re-interpreted , thus stimulating fresh perception. There is a history of curriculum innovation, whose main feature, after colonial education became established, has been a series of partial reforms; the idea of a nation, on the other hand, has no such history and therefore it hasn’t taken root, the common experience being that of living in a divided state. Colonialism introduced the idea of a nation; colonial practice however left us a divided country. While curriculum has received partial reforms, the idea of the nation has remained for us in history as a half measure. The possibility of a nation remained in our imagination but never given collective expression.
For the idea of the nation to germinate we need narratives about it. In Fiji making narratives about the nation has been a discontinuous process. However it is through these stories about the nation that the idea becomes located in the popular imagination. One such story is formulated in the national anthem, … we stand united under noble banner blue. A recent billboard poster announces ‘Together, we are Fiji’. In a fragmented country, it is useful to collate such narratives of solidarity. In a recent widely discussed research paper, Sudesh Mishra revisits the journey of the indenture ship Leonidas that brought the first Indians to Fiji in 1879. His focus is on five iTaukeis from Kadavu on board the ship as cleaners who accompanied the indentured Indians at the start of their history, living under the same conditions on board, put under same regulations, and speaking Hindi; this was the moment when Indians themselves were mingling together for the first time irrespective of their social position. The ship has always been a strong metaphor for the state; here it is a metaphor for solidarity and the beginning of the ‘nation’ to be.
Mishra rightfully maintains that indenture isn’t exclusively an Indian story. There are other instances of iTaukei engagement in Indo-Fijian history, subjected to vagaries of remembering and forgetting. One episode, the rescue effort pertaining to the wrecked ship Syria in 1884 at Nasilai reef, in which iTaukeis played a role, is sufficiently documented. There are uncollated accounts such as stories of runaway coolies finding refuge in koros that require historicizing. And more recently at the height of riots in Suva city during the coups, there have been oral accounts of Indo-Fijian women being given protection by iTaukei market vendors. All this is part of what is called minor history but assumes major status in the history of solidarity. They ought to enter our consciousness at some point in our education.
The field of repressed history is a legitimate sphere for scholarly research in the context of our objectives. Over thirty years before Mishra’s creative research, precisely a hundred years after the arrival of Leonidas with 468 indentured workers and the five Kadavu iTaukeis, Pio Manoa was charting out the task ahead for investigators of inter-dependence in nation -making. He wrote discerningly that, “The task ahead of us must first include an untangling of views, opinions, prejudices, judgements about us, whether they be of our own creation or whether they be creation of others, or whether they be co-created . The success of this undertaking will contribute in no small measure to our mutual self-understanding.”
What Manoa says in that path-breaking exploratory essay has meaning for the project I am trying to delineate in this address. As the essay is full of insights on the project we are trying to define, I would like to quote a few more lines. He says, “… as an individual and as a group ( we are) implicated in the fate of those who live on the other side of the fence, and he must enter with goodwill and imagination into their living reality. In the dialectic let us forgive each other for misunderstanding or approximations of an acceptable understanding. ”
There are voices in Fiji’s own literature that haven’t been heard widely and our curriculum has more or less ignored these voices. Thirty four years after that essay by Pio Manoa was written, Bhim Singh, a former High School Principal, writes in his recently published autobiography, “ I was delighted to make my acquaintance with Pio Manoa. Here was an iTaukei voice I hadn’t heard before. His response to Indo-Fijian writing compelled me to do the same, that is, respond to iTaukei writing. ”
Writing is a powerful site for dialectic on nation- making and it is the responsibility of curriculum workers to make all students participants in this discourse irrespective of the students’ subject areas. Students must see imagination as how all citizens, and not only writers and intellectuals, dream and feel together. The curriculum offers a broad space for imagining together what is possible. Narrow view of subjects in the colonial curriculum has been a real barrier in promoting interdisciplinary studies in which such broad discourses are possible on learning and living together.
Whatever one’s political affiliation, a critical moment in nation- making has been the ruling to call all citizens Fijians. With that, according to Prime Minister Bainimarama: “New hope has been restored. Because we have established once and for all that every citizen deserves the same rights and opportunities as anyone else. We have genuine equality. And for the first time, everyone is a Fijian. We all belong, no matter where we come from and whatever our beliefs. It is a wonderful time to be Fijian as we set our sights on a united future, with all the possibility that holds for us and for future generations. “
For this grand ideal to be realized, we have to attend to the greatest national need of the moment, that is, to address the wounds, real or assumed, that different communities have been nurturing. All segments of society carry their own peculiar hurts from history, be it the scars of pre-contact animosities, the bruises of indenture, the psychological damage caused by colonialism, the traumas of the coups, the acrimony arising from the recent elections. These injuries cannot be easily erased or repressed. Real or symbolic wounds (various forms of true and false consciousness) are stored away in human memory and resurface at moments of crisis and confrontation. If healing is the most urgent national need, and as we are talking about aligning our education to true national needs, avoiding puerile economism or vocationalism as ideologies, the curriculum becomes the location in which solidarity and healing assumes priority. We know that curriculum is never the panacea for all national ills and fractures (the civil society is another site for public discourse on such matters), nonetheless the premise is right; the kind of society we will construct depends on the kind of education we are imparting now. The way proposals are formulated in the curriculum must lead us competently towards cohesion and solidarity, producing a citizenry that is constantly in conversation; in the end for political stability to become a reality, all Fijians should be able to reclaim the nation.
Before we proceed to consider how this national need for solidarity (that is, community of feelings, purposes and responsibilities) and healing (in all it aspects—psychological, political and spiritual), can be accommodated in the education curriculum, I would like to make a radical suggestion that the Government’s Curriculum Unit should now be relocated in its own national university. This unit was established in the last years of colonial rule, and it has served its function of initiating curriculum reform. Its relocation will greatly revitalise curriculum work and allow scholars to tackle the unfinished project of decolonising education. The university has an emancipatory function, and it has now the added responsibility of resisting neo-colonial encroachment of transnational corporations by producing counter strategies. In that task the university itself must not appropriate norms of commerce in conducting its affairs. It is the responsibility of the national university to serve the country not only in the narrow sense of supplying manpower but, more crucially, contributing to the country’s sovereignty, self-determination and self-sufficiency—elements that make nationhood.
Relocating the CDU will facilitate interaction with advance educational research, expose curriculum work to discourses in other disciplines and foster multi-discipline route to the national project. The colonial categories of knowledge and pedagogy needs to be reviewed, as we all know now that colonial system of education functioned to maintain colonial order and dependency, and to manage the minds of the subjected people. There have been piecemeal reforms but the fundamental transformation of the system of education in terms of school architecture, structure of classroom, classification of knowledge, pedagogy, medium of instruction, status of creative and imaginative curricula still awaits deconstructing. The timetable at all levels is forever cluttered with so-called subjects providing little space for a challenging field of learning for our fractured universe like human values education as a discipline on its own right.
If solidarity and healing are the critical need of the moment, then a major shift in paradigm is called for with renewed emphasis on learning to live together and learning to be, without undermining learning to know and learning to do—together identified as the four pillars of learning that are widely adopted in modern curriculum reform. This paradigm shift would entail new orientation: first, development of a curriculum designed to bridge the gulf between communities with emphasis on interdependence, inter-personal skills and partnership projects to bring about the ideals of peace, justice and trust; and second, the curriculum’s goal of fostering self-knowledge, development of individual potentials and desire for life-long learning. The latter is the ‘treasure within’ that UNESCO has been highlighting in its publications on curriculum reform. A report prepared by the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century says, “ It is true that many other problems have to be solved … but this report has been prepared at a time when, faced with many misfortunes caused by wars, crime ( one might add coups in this list) and underdevelopment, humankind is apparently hesitating between continuing headlong along the same path and resignation. Let us offer another way. ”
The other way is … “ renewed emphasis on moral and cultural dimension of education, enabling each person to grasp the individuality of other people and to understand the world’s erratic progression towards a certain unity; but the process must begin with self-understanding through an inner voyage whose milestones are knowledge, meditation and the practice of self-criticism.” Thus in the school curriculum in Fiji a whole dimension of education is either marginalised or largely ignored. I mean the affective domain, the emotions and feelings where we live every moment of our daily life, and the imaginative world that is connected to creative impulses. With the paradigm shift that is proposed both refinement of feelings and imaginative life will receive proper articulation.
The challenge for curriculum workers, then, is to invent a curriculum that achieves these objectives against the dangers of political set- back, reversal and relapse. Therefore these objectives must indeed rise above and go beyond all other educational goals and national needs so that we do not regress to the disorder of post-1987. The configuration of the new curriculum defines itself in these considerations. A broadly-based and sensitively developed values education program will subsume the dual educational orientation of learning to live together and learning to be. Self-knowledge and self criticism, healing the self is, of course, the necessary precondition for the larger healing process. Within the space provided by values education and reorganization of knowledge in the new inclusive curriculum, students will bring to the learning processes their own cultural archive of knowledge that had been marginalized in the colonial curriculum. Thus the epistemologies that different communities consider relevant will be foregrounded. The challenge here for curriculum reconstruction is, first, to align diversity with unity; and second, to infuse national values into foundations of particular epistemologies, thus generating a common civic culture.
The configuration of the proposed curriculum will inevitably be hybrid and not the monopoly of any one sector of society, and national identity that will be shaped will be pluralistic. The postcolonial education will celebrate this pluralism. In 1995, I published a book called Altering Imagination. The title was meant to reflect the challenge of forging a different kind of imagination in opposition to the communal ideologies of a quarter of a century since independence. It was envisaged an altered imagination would view the freedom of others as essential to one’s own liberation, and pluralism as what defines our existence on this planet with a multiplicity of ethnic communities, languages, cultures, religions and landscapes; further pluralism was also meant to suggest that “ … the reality that is before us is diverse, various, multifaceted; there is no homogenous realty but many realities; there is no absolute meaning but several meanings; and there is no single answer to life’s problems but a multiplicity of answers.” Pluralism thus explained has implication for curriculum discourse and identity formation. It is true we are all Fijians but individually we will always be complex entities. Our solidarity as a nation will be our tolerance for heterogeneity.
The book I published in 1995 did not find its way into the education system. That is also the fate of Pio Manoa’s sensitive essay on solidarity and other narratives of belonging and identity by Fijian authors. It is like shutting out sites where the most energetic debate is taking place on nation-making, issues of inclusion and exclusion, belonging and not belonging. There is a mind-set in a closed curriculum that resists life as it is lived and culture that is around us. Let us hope that a generation later we will not be saying, ‘Why haven’t we heard those voices before? ”
In Fiji a nation is struggling to be born; education and civil society must stimulate its emergence and evolution.
– PROFESSOR SUBRAMANI is a senior lecturer at FNU. Views expressed in this article are his own.