Curricula for todayOnce they arrive in the classroom, primary school teachers often find a curriculum that is out of date and irrelevant to the lives of the students. But revising it is primarily a question of political will, as Zimbabwe found soon after its independence in 1980. Over a period of about two years, panels of teachers, university educators and government officials at national and local levels collaborated in the effort. The new curriculum highlights the country’s history and culture, the environment and national unity. Care was taken to include people of different ethnic groups in illustrations and examples.
Once consensus on content was achieved, attention turned to textbooks. Commercial publishers were encouraged to develop their own books, as long as they matched the curriculum. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education printed inexpensive booklets on newsprint and distributed them free of charge so that every school would have a basic supply. For the first 11 years, the Ministry required that textbooks be published in the country. Along with getting learning materials into the hands of its students, Zimbabwe’s policy turned publishing into one of the most vibrant industries in the country.
The curriculum used in the schools of the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, or BRAC, aims to teach basic literacy, numeracy and social awareness, while also developing the child’s creative and social skills through poetry, crafts and singing and dancing.
BRAC is probably best known for its success in placing girls in quality
schools. In its 30,000 schools, which aim to serve the poorest families,
two thirds of the seats are filled by girls. BRAC succeeds in part by building
its facilities in rural villages close to children’s homes and giving preference
in hiring to women, who make up about three quarters of the teachers.
The success of the programme demonstrates that the goal of universal primary education cannot be achieved unless efforts are made to make schooling equally accessible to girls. In the developing world, 20 per cent of girls are not enrolled. Just one in four of Burkina Faso’s school-age girls attends school, and in Yemen, 39 per cent of girls are enrolled—compared with 73 per cent of boys.
Girls’ lower rates of school attendance result from a complicated set of issues stemming from poverty and cultural practices: their domestic duties, teachers’ preferential treatment of boys, the lack of female teachers, fear of sexual harassment and rape, distance from schools, lack of sanitation and traditions that put greater value in educating boys than girls.
These obstacles are hard to overcome, but political will and demonstrated
support for girls have already made a big difference in many cases. Schools
in countries including Kenya, Nepal, Pakistan and Senegal adapt to accommodate
girls’ domestic and other responsibilities. Throughout the developing world,
new cadres of female teachers are easing parents’ concerns about sending
their daughters to school.