Operational curriculum and citizenship

29 November 2015


Safayet Alam :
University of Canterbury
Understanding citizenship at the operational level of secondary school curriculum (classroom context) require examining what teachers do in classrooms in order to prepare Bangladeshi students for assuming their role as citizens. It depends on how teachers perceive the present global and local context and citizenship. This chapter explores the ways in which present teaching practices address the need to develop creatire and critical citizenry in both local and global contexts. It challenges the usefulness of a top down transfer of knowledge. I argue that the present teaching practices, which involve rote learning and private coaching, reduce the social awareness which is needed to motivate a desire to cultivate a critical and committed citizenry. I conclude by proposing further research that may support teachers' professional development and promote change in educational praxis and suggest such change might lead to deconstruction of our existing attitudes towards teaching.
We are living in a fast changing world that raises questions concerning the type of citizen our schooling system should be producing for Bangladesh's future. We are now interconnected with other nations in many aspects of our life and competing to protect our interests, identity, and to be heard positively on the world stage. I believe education is the way to prepare our young students to take their place in the present competitive world. Concepts of what is involved in citizenship and how these relate to Bangladesh's local and international needs are addressed in policy and in official curriculum statements. These ideals are often subverted, although not intentionally, at the level where curriculum is put into action: the operational curriculum. The operational curriculum is what actually happens in the classroom under the control of schools and teachers. What teachers do in classrooms in order to prepare Bangladeshi students for assuming their role as citizens has significant implications to the school students, society, and the processes of education inside and outside school. It mostly depends on how teachers perceive the present global and local context and citizenship, and on how much agency they think they have in their pedagogical choices. For this reason, it is important to understand and explore the notions of citizenship at the level of the operational curriculum.
This chapter discusses the findings and implications of a case study of the operational curriculum in a secondary school in Bangladesh (Alam 2011). The analysis shows that the curriculum enacted in the school largely reflects a teacher led transmission model and a top down transfer of knowledge. It also discusses different controversial aspects of private coaching that are enacted in parallel with classroom teaching in the Bangladesh secondary education system. I argue that at the level of the operational curriculum the knowledge considered most worth knowing largely reveals neoliberal notions of citizenship, with the dominant aim being to do well in exams. Critical approaches to understanding citizenship include elements such as taking ownership of one's thoughts or actions, developing ethical relationships with difference, understanding the world as socially constructed, growing a critical consciousness, creating creative resistance toward domination, valuing one's own culture, and most importantly learning how to think. These are largely absent in the operational curriculum. Because the research itself was reported in my thesis in 2011, I also take the opportunity now to reflect critically on my methodological approach, theoretical assumptions and my findings. Finally, I conclude by proposing further research possibilities that may support teachers' professional development and promote change in educational praxis, and so lead to deconstruction of educational practices that are legacies of colonisations. As In the thesis, I use pseudonyms for my participants.
An examination of how the enacted secondary school curriculum contributes to the production of competitive global citizens aligns with the book's theme of research and educational change in Bangladesh. Particularly the exploration of how local and global educational needs for creative and critical citizenry are addressed in present teaching practices, questions the effectiveness of a top down transfer of knowledge. And while the context of this book affirms the value of research in bringing change in educational praxis, this chapter offers new inscription of such value by providing a critical reflection on present practices within a grounded localized context.
The project follows an investigative approach that is predominantly one of case study (Creswell, 2007 & Denzin & Lincoln, 2003) of one secondary school within a broadly qualitative framework (Bredo, 2006; Burr, 1995; & Denzin & Lincoln, 2003). This choice enabled me to draw attention to what was actually happening in practice (in a classroom setting), particularly in terms of how the participants made sense of citizenship and how they saw their own role in citizenship education. Here, I want to acknowledge that I as an outside researcher chose a particular theoretical lens to interpret peoples' story. And throughout the research process the participants were not involved to reflect critically on their own practices and to develop as a learning community. I feel the need for a methodological approach for further study that can benefit the participants and promote change in educational praxis. I am still in the process of theorising something that values teachers' active engagement in the research process and allows them to reflect critically on their own practices. Kemmis and Smith (2008) suggest participatory action research could serve such a function. Nonetheless, I strongly believe that my case study findings highlight different possibilities for understanding the relationship between citizenship, education, and societal change and so lead to policy interventions for our teacher education system.
To understand the implications about citizenship of different aspects of the operational curriculum, I drew on material from policy documents, including the National Education Policy 2010 (Ministry of Education, 2010), and on stakeholder perspectives. I used evidence from participant observations, and from teachers' and students' stated beliefs, understandings and values as expressed in interviews. I also drew on my experience as a teacher within Bangladesh and acknowledge myself as an engaged participant in the issues I address. A full discussion of my theoretical and methodological approach and of the findings can be found in Alam (2011).
To interpret the data I constructed a theoretical basis for my study. I examined citizenship as a complex and contested concept from peoples' multiple perspectives and relationships in a post-colonial context. I used the works of Ichilov (1998), Peters, Britton, & Blee (2008), Tully (2008), and Dobson (2005 & 2006) to examine the complexities. To discuss the educational implications of citizenship I found Andreotti (2006) and Biesta (2010) to be relevant with their critical approaches and emphasis on political subjectivity and agency. I also drew on Rizvi's (2011) notion of trans nationalism as a social, political, and economic phenomenon to understand the present cosmopolitan features of citizenship in terms of cultural diversity. I drew on Pinar, Reynolds, Slattery, & Taubman's (2006) notion of the curriculum as a political text to show that Western neoliberal understandings of citizenship are those considered in schools as most worth knowing. Finally I looked at pedagogy through the works of Freire (1998), Giroux (1997), McLaren (1989), Arthur and Wright (2001), Mariage, Paxton-Buursma, & Bouck (2004), Biesta (2010), Brophy (2006), and Macfarlane (2004) to conceptualise the importance of the social construction of knowledge in producing critical citizens.
All the pedagogical assumptions that I utilised in my thesis to explain participants' story articulated the importance of freedom from oppression and advocated that teaching should be informed by theory and practical experience. There remains a limitation in this conceptual framework in that it completely based on Western scholarship. In my thesis discussion, I also had not brought any comprehensive and contrasting pedagogical concepts that originated from our Bangaldeshi epistemological and ontological standpoints which I hope to do in my further research, nor did I present any indigenous way of understanding pedagogy for citizenship. Nevertheless the pedagogical conceptions I explored are still applicable in our context.
Furthermore, these pedagogical assumptions enabled me to analyse how teachers position themselves in classrooms to transmit knowledge and skills and to activate values and dispositions for active citizenship. I also utilised these pedagogical conceptions to see to what degree the teachers in a particular school in Bangladesh help the students understand clearly the citizenship ideologies which were being expressed and their consequences in the students' lives. The central purpose of these theoretical tools was to analyse the curriculum enactment processes that took place inside and outside the school context. Using these theoretical tools, I explore different pedagogical aspects of the transmission model and their implications for critical citizenship.
There is a clear intention in the stated views of the teachers, interviewed in my study, that teaching requires a friendly environment so that students feel safe asking questions. But we might ask, what type of questions should students ask that extend their view to one of critical engagement? The intended Bangladesh secondary school curriculum aims to produce competitive citizens for the global market (Alam, 2012). Central to understanding this, from the perspective of the operational curriculum, is the role of teachers as producers of knowledge, and the role of students as recipients of transmitted knowledge. It appears that there is little emphasis on encouraging critical thinking or questioning in the classroom and in private coaching. In practice the purpose of transferring knowledge from teachers seems largely related to passing exams. I would suggest that, when we have teachers teaching only what they know and what they believe to be important, there is a risk that we undermine the students' own knowledge and voices and limit their opportunity to become critically active citizens.
In the case study it was apparent that the teachers saw their role as just to transfer the content of the intended curriculum straightforwardly to the students. This was frequently seen during observations.
I was observing Ripon who was teaching Banga Bani, a poem written by Abdul Hakim. At the beginning of the session he gave a short biography of Abdul Hakim on the basis of his own learning:
Abdul Hakim was born in a village called Sudharampur of Sandip district in 1620 AD. He was the main Bangia poet of the seventeenth century. His most famous work is Nurnama. In this poem he expressed deep love and affection for his motherland and his mother language. Due to this characteristic he became a legendary idol to the poets and writers of the next generation and they remembered him with deep respect. We find a very good human personality in his literature and this is his other special characteristic. He died in 1690 AD. (Researcher field notes, Ripon's class, Bangla Literature, 16.01.2011)
After giving this biography Ripon started discussion of the poem and did not allow any opportunity for the students to express what more they knew about Abdul Hakim that was not given in the text book. After providing the initial knowledge base he could have engaged the students as a learning community to share their own knowledge of Abdul Hakim's work. This is important for the students because it would have allowed them to understand that the world is made up of socially constructed knowledge with which they can critically engage to become a responsible citizen.
Arguably it is understandable that absolute teacher led transmission of knowledge puts students in a position of being the recipients ;f the thinking processes of others. In such a context the students' roles are just confined to responding according to the teachers' wishes and to take the beliefs and values that are expressed in the text books as the definitive expressions of knowledge. The teachers always appear to want to hear the right answer from the students and the students constantly try to guess what the teacher wants them to say. This approach can fail to cultivate qualities such as openness to others and a questioning attitude to issues about what is right or wrong, which are indispensable for creating potential to resist the power of any ideologies that seek to manipulate how we see ourselves as citizens. It reflects the fact that students are seen as the passive recipients of transmitted knowledge.
Freire (1998) criticizes this absolute submission to the thinking processes of others which denies the dialectical relationship between the teachers and students and among the students. When the students in a classroom setting are able to see themselves as cocreators of their knowledge, they in fact learn to discover themselves and others in terms that enable them to exist together. The dialectical understanding of oneself includes the sense of valuing other voices which is neither "I" nor "you" rather it is a composite sense of emerging as a learning community. It is understandable that such a composite sense may take time to evolve and may involve more than just interaction in a classroom. Perhaps, it requires facilitation of a systemic reorientation to create commitment to the culture of active participation in every aspect of schooling.
However, this notion of a learning community is strongly connected to the students' assumptions of who they are in the classroom as well as in a broader social context. It is also related to the question of how the students see themselves as Bangladeshi citizens. The political, social and cultural experiences of Bangladeshi students are therefore constructed in classrooms without analysing the contributing forces that work against their wisdom. This certainly limits the scope for students to value democratic practices and they also fail to learn how to become socially responsible citizens.

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