Culture in the Curriculum:a contribution to nation building
Akanisi Kedrayate
I have been asked to speak on the contribution
result of government policies in many parts
that culture in our school curricula can
of the world making schooling more skills-
make to nation building. For the purpose
orientated and putting a high priority on
of this presentation, culture is defined as
the accumulation of knowledge and much
a way of life of a group of people. This
emphasis on examinations.
encompasses their language, knowledge,
values and beliefs. These aspects of culture
To prepare students for the world of work
which are unique and special to particular
is largely seen by teachers, students and
cultural groups is what gives them their
parents as a task that is predominantly one of
cultural identity. Thaman (2002) articulates
achieving good grades in the knowledge and
the shared values and beliefs and ways of
skills required in the work place. Learning,
doing and behaving as, the faa Samoa (the
understanding and making use of students’
Samoan way); faka Tonga (the Tongan way)
skills developed within their cultural context
and vaka Viti (the Fijian Way).
are often overlooked and generally not
perceived to be part of the repertoire of
It is important to understand these ways
abilities required by school-leavers when
as they explain the collective values and
they enter the workforce or proceed to
behaviours of these groups and the way they
further their education and training.
perceive and interpret their environment.
Multi-Culturalism in the Fiji Context
Culture and Educational Change
In Fiji, multiculturalism was the main
In many developing nations which were
national discourse after independence and
once under colonial rule, there was a
it referred to the distinctiveness, but co-
period of adjustment after independence.
existence, of ethnic groups under negotiated
The emergence of new nationhood was
political terms, such as separate political
supported by a resurgence of the nation’s
representation of the different ethnic groups
cultural identity and diversity. This was often
in Parliament (Ratuva, 2000). The co-
articulated in policy statements in education
existence approach to multi-culturalism is
and communicated to the schooling process
taken a stage further by those who believe
with prominence provided for the study of
in a greater proximity — an integration —of
local languages in the school curriculum.
the cultures by learning about them and
However, trends in recent years have
understanding the differences. However,
indicated that, to a large extent, schools have
as Ratuva succinctly expressed it, when
either ‘watered down’ or neglected certain
attempts were made to put this kind of
aspects of the nation’s cultural awareness
multi-culturalism into practice, only the
and development. This has occurred as a
Pacific Curriculum Network 11 (1) June 2002

superficial aspects of culture at the symbolic
has a central place in this process. It must
level were addressed and the fundamental
be emphasised that a school curriculum is
issue of equity was ignored. There was a
not just a syllabus of which the contents
lot of emphasis on the ‘visible’— token
are fitted into a timetable for the aims of
and ceremonial aspects of culture, such as
teaching and learning. For our purpose,
drinking yaqona and eating together and
the school curriculum should be seen as a
celebrating each other’s holidays. These
series of planned activities, which result in
interactions failed to permeate to deeper
learning and in which the teacher plays an
levels of interaction. Such a narrow and
important role. While the learning activities
shallow approach to multi-culturalism,
take place mainly in school, they can extend
with all its good intentions, camouflages the
to home and community. This is an extended
increasing ethnic segregation and deepening
view of the curriculum, whereby the role
socio-economic disparity between the major
of schooling and its relationship with the
cultural groups in Fiji today.
cultural development of the community
is pivotal. In relation to this point,
It was articulated in the Report of the Fiji
it may be suggested that the school
Islands Education Commission/Panel
curriculum has a central part to play in
(Government of Fiji, 2000:3) that the
the interrelationship between education
multi-ethnic nature of society in Fiji poses
and cultural development.
a challenge for the nation’s development
efforts. It needs concerted efforts by
A curriculum model offered by Stakes (1969)
all groups in the nation to help increase
and modified by Thomas (1994) comprises
mutual understanding and respect.
three interlinked elements. An important
Increasing social harmony among the
element is that of the learner background.
different cultural groups is vital, as its
In order to plan curricula that are relevant
failure will likely to lead to discontent
from a cultural standpoint, it is essential to
and social conflicts among them.
know and understand as much as possible
about the cultural context of the learner. In
The multi-culturalism approach has three
other words, cultural analysis needs to be
fundamental premises: first is the recognition
undertaken and questions raised relating
that ethnic groups and their cultures are
to the learners’ preferred language, their
unique and different from one another;
family background, religious persuasion,
second is that, while the differences need to
styles of thinking, as well as their adherence
be maintained, it is necessary to learn about
to certain cultural customs — all of which
them; and, finally, learning about them leads
affect the learners and provide a valuable
to cultural tolerance. It is acknowledged
profile from which a meaningful curriculum
that one of the most important agents of
can emerge. Similarly, the second element,
multiculturalism is education. Education is
which is the learner-teacher interaction,
assumed to accommodate certain aspects
would also benefit from a cultural analysis
of different ethnic groups such as religious
and hopefully improve the quality of the
practices, beliefs and values.
school curriculum. According to Thomas
(1994) one of the major issues faced in
Curriculum and Cultural Diversity
schooling is the question of rejecting or
neglecting important cultural elements from
In recognising that education is an agent for
the school curriculum, especially when
cultural transmission, the school curriculum
they may add substantially to the relevance
Pacific Curriculum Network 11 (1) June 2002

and overall quality of instruction. Through
religions and societies. It is taught at all
a careful process of cultural analysis, it
levels in both primary and secondary schools
should be possible to ensure that planning
in Fiji.
a curriculum not only results in what the
learner needs to meet the demands of the
It is unfortunate that the latter two initiatives
world of work, but also provides the cultural
are not succeeding as well as was hoped.
diversity which is part and parcel of the
Very few schools offer the language courses,
learner’s background.
and the Family Values course succeeds only
where the teachers support it themselves.
How Do We Integrate Culture into the
While there is a lot of rhetoric about
Curriculum in Fiji?
family values, in practice it is paid only
lip service in many schools. It is not
It has to be acknowledged that the Ministry
an examinable course; another thing
of Education through its Curriculum
that works against it being given the
Development Unit has already introduced
attention it deserves.
multi-cultural issues as core components
in the social studies curriculum at the
Clearly, a greater effort must be made to
primary level. The promotion of the use
improve cultural education in schools.
of a variety of teaching methodologies
I believe that this can be achieved by
in this area is commendable. As you all
implementing recommendations and
know, Social Studies as it is taught from
suggestions put forward in Chapter 6 of
Class 1 to 6 examines families and kinship.
the Report of the Fiji Islands Education
Students learn about marriage, birth and
Commission/Panel (Government of Fiji
death ceremonies observed by a wide cross-
2000). The report has identified several areas
section of the community. Conflicts and
of inclusion into the primary curriculum:
conflict situations in various communities
are studied in Classes 5 and 6.The past co-
1. Fijian knowledge and culture as a
ordinator of CDU claims that students of
systematic area of study throughout
today know more about and embrace multi-
the school system. Schools which serve
culturalism much more positively than does
Fijian communities should include
the older generation.
stories of their people and place. It
is important to utilise the wisdom
Another curriculum programme that CDU has
of the elders by involving members
introduced which is crucial to reconciliation
of the community who have special
and nation building is the cross cultural
knowledge: song/dance performers,
program on Language. As language is an
orators, navigators, traditional farmers
important medium in communication which
and fishers. This would greatly enrich
leads to better understanding of cultural
the educational programme as well as
values, the teaching of the two languages,
extend community participation.
Hindi to non-Indians and Fijian to non-
Fijians, has now been taken up by some
2. Social studies as a core area of the
curriculum. This should be concerned
with the study of the socio-cultural
Another CDU initiative, the Values Education
groups that make up Fiji society. It needs
course, is intended to teach school students
to emphasise the importance of both the
universal values, which are common to all
cultural diversity and social cohesion
Pacific Curriculum Network 11 (1) June 2002

within a nation. A respect for others’
schooling, cultural development and nation
cultural beliefs and practices, and an
building, any plans to revitalise the school
understanding and acceptance of how
curriculum become redundant. Furthermore,
cultures change should be the key goals
even if common principles or cultural
of the social studies programme.
universals have been identified, without
the capacity and commitment of the
3. Scientific and technological skills and
authorities to train teachers to be aware of
concepts in the science curriculum.
the broader and deeper understanding of
Students need to explore the interaction
their own and other cultures, the outcome
between humanity and the natural
is likely to be a narrow ethno-centric
environment. The science programme
brand of education and schooling.
should enable students to learn traditional
knowledge about their ecological
Curriculum planners claim that measures
systems and about indigenous people’s
have been undertaken to accommodate
roles as guardians of the sustainable use
cultural diversity alongside uniformity.
of natural resources and protectors of
Teacher educators also have an important
local biodiversity.
responsibility of ensuring that teachers
are trained and prepared for their role in
4. The arts, which include music, dance
accommodating cultural diversity and
and the visual, are vital forms of
forging national identity. The shortcoming is
personal, social and cultural
often reflected when teachers have to make
expressions. By extracting the richness
a choice about whether to spend time on the
of the cultural traditions existing within
part of the curriculum that is examinable, and
Fiji’s multicultural society, primary
that part which is not. The cultural aspects of
schools can strengthen community
a curriculum are usually the non-examinable
development and shape national identity.
parts of the curriculum and therefore receive
The potential of the arts in promoting
much less attention.
community participation and cultural
and intercultural studies within the
The curricula of teacher preparation courses
primary school curriculum cannot be
need to enable the newly qualified teachers
over-emphasised. Arts are also crucial
to know the cultural context of learning and
to the development of the creativity
teaching for a particular society. Secondly,
and imagination required for lifelong
there is a need for teacher educators to be
learning, as well as promoting group
trained in the design and implementation of
learning and co-operation and co-
pedagogy, which is able to select from the
ordination which are greatly needed in
culture or cultures the relevant knowledge,
our multi-cultural society.
skills and attitudes which can be transferred
and, where appropriate, incorporated
The Role of Teachers in Culture and
into basic requirements of any school
Nation Building
The contribution which teachers play in
Finally, the in-service training of teachers
cultural development and nation building
needs to be assessed with regard to the
is crucial. Unless the role and training
extent to which it enables teachers to gain
of teachers is recognised as having a
the expertise of making their teaching
pivotal position in the relationship between
more innovative, sensitive and adaptive
Pacific Curriculum Network 11 (1) June 2002

to the requirements of the intercultural
cultural elements into all subjects can go
a long way towards achieving the aim of
educating young people so that they can play
In the Pacific context, Thaman (1999)
a constructive part in nation building.
and others at the University of the South
Pacific have, over the last decade, worked
conscientiously to assist teacher educators
Government of Fiji (2000) Learning
in the region to better contextualise their
Together: Directions for Education in
curriculum and also their pedagogies and
the Fiji Islands (2000). Report of the
assessment techniques. The emphasis is
Fiji Islands Education Commission.
on learning and understanding the students’
Government of Fiji, Suva.
backgrounds, and then focussing the
Ratuva, S. (2000). Towards Multiculturalism
teaching and research on cultures and issues
and Affirmative Action: A case for
important to the Pacific people. A lot of
Fiji. In J. Cortrell (ed.) Educating
work and research has been done to date and
for Multiculturalism. Citizens’
several Teacher Education Modules have
Constitutional Forum. Suva.
been published by the Institute of Education,
Stakes, R.E. (1969) Language Rationality
all of which are culturally inclusive.
and Assessment. In W.H. Bently (ed.)
Improving Educational Assessment.
Not only are relevant teaching materials
A s s o c i a t i o n f o r S u p e r v i s i o n
being developed for teacher educators;
and Curriculum Development,
Thaman (2000) has also encouraged research
into Pacific indigenous educational ideas
Thaman, K.H. (September 2002). Towards
and worldviews. Through her own work in
culturally inclusive teaching and
undergraduate and post-graduate teaching,
learning, with specific references
some university staff and students have
to higher education in the Pacific
researched and written accounts of their own
Islands. Paper presented at the
cultures’ perceptions and notions of learning,
Higher Education in the 21st Century
knowledge and wisdom. The articles are
Conference, Malaysia.
currently being edited and will shortly be
Thomas, E. (ed) (1994). International
published in a Reader entitled Educational
Perspectives on Culture and Schooling:
Ideas from Oceania. This reader will be
A Symposium Proceedings. Department
used as an important resource, not only at the
of International and Comparative
USP but also in higher education institutions
Education. Institute of Education,
in the Pacific.
London. Great Britain.
Education has a vital role to play in
inculcating tolerance, respect and empathy
among the various cultural groups in Fiji.
The school curriculum and the teachers who
implement it are key elements in this process.
While some progress has been made, it has
not gone far enough. The inclusion of
Pacific Curriculum Network 11 (1) June 2002