– Khagendra Acharya
I intend in this article to initiate a debate on curriculum change in Nepali context. I basically argue that revision of curricula needs to incorporate dynamics of traumatic experience during ten years of armed conflict. I use the notion of traumatic experience in Sigmund Freud’s sense, i.e., the experience any individual goes through after any terrible happening. This is to say when any such event occurs, the person does not understand it, but after certain time starts suffering from symptoms like hysteria, nightmares and so on.
Curriculum of any country as a guide for syllabus design, education experts argue, should comply with the changing environment of not only the country but also of the world. Viewed from this insight, curriculum demands timely revision both for incorporating development in the world and for addressing realities in the country/locality. To meet this need, universities of the world form autonomous bodies of experts to recommend the nature of upgrading. Moreover, they provide freedom to course instructors for changing the syllabus. Together, the mechanisms function for implementation of new courses or termination of outdated programs.
In Nepalese context, however, the curriculum and consequently the syllabus of school to university level show an alarming picture. Bitter but true, we have witnessed the same curriculum operating for more than a decade. Implicitly, this condition demands two-fold interpretation: first, Nepal has not undergone any changes and the development in the world has not affected the country in these years; and second, experts on curriculum in Nepal have either not felt the need to change or not been able to persuade education bureaucracy. Whatever the reality, condemning any side would not do justice to the need of time to revise the curriculum and implement it accordingly.
The revision process, I would emphasize, needs to take findings to the question – what type of traumatic experience have the people undergone in the making of people’s republic out of the metamorphosis of Hindu kingdom – seriously. Certainly, the political transformation would find its space in the syllabus of social sciences, but what about the experiences different groups such as Maoist guerilla, security forces, and many civilians underwent during the process? Two apparent options become visible to curriculum designers in this regard: one, being amnesiac to their experience with an intention of making the people forget everything; and two, valorizing their deeds with the goal of producing individuals having ‘similar courage’.
Before discussing the consequences of both options, I think it worthy to look back at available statistics within the span of March 1995 to November 2005, i.e., the duration of Maoist insurgency and State-counter-insurgency. A point to note here is, the available statistics of war reveals only the manifested cases: 16,278 killed, 1500 disappeared, 75,000 injured and 250,000 internally displaced. The reality beyond this statics is even more horrible. The number of persons tortured, raped, abducted and otherwise physically brutalized remains measureless. Categorizing the victims, we find mainly three types. The first type comprises the people traumatized mainly by the security forces; at individual level, the category consists of people targeted for their support for the Maoists. The second category comprises people who were hardly involved in any of the sides but faced it as they happened to be in the particular situation. Similarly, the third group includes police or alleged informers of police or the cadres of other political parties tortured by the Maoists.
The option – amnesia – for curriculum designers is inappropriate, for it overlooks human dynamics of any war. As such, the future generation hardly succeeds to understand the bitter part of the war as they would read numbers only and thus fail to grasp the real experience. Moreover, the descendants of victims, who need to disown their revenge motive, cannot enter the psychological process of gradually forgetting their intention. Probably, if the syllabus designers of Nepali history had not been amnesiac to the traumatic experience of people in Kirtipur during Prithvi Narayan Shah’s attack, the people would not have sustained anti-Shah sentiment. Though arguments can be forwarded against this example, the notion of ‘working through’ from psychoanalysis does not refute it.
The other option –valorization – also does not sound appropriate mainly because it exaggerates some experience at the cost of the extinction of multiple voices. In other words, if we confine the selection to unitary narrative of the victory of good versus loss of bad force, we will be providing no space for the dynamic nature of war experience. Consequently, war for the future generation would appear a romantic affair.
Hence, to avoid the curriculum from being traditional in its architecture or from maintaining aloofness of the historical reality, we need to initiate a debate which in turn would be productive. Hopefully, the invitation for debate would result in making traumatic experience, which is often bracketed from our notion of what constitutes curriculum, part and parcel of classroom life.
(First published in Gurukul – Educational Monthly, October-November 2011)