The swinging pendulum of the hidden curriculum

One day I cannot forget in a hurry was Tuesday, September 3, 2019. That was the day a carefully-chosen team visited the TETFUND-funded research project that I lead at the University, after the unfortunate demise of Dr (Mrs) Elisabeth De Campos who astutely led the team till April 2017. As it happened that day, I didn’t imagine that a day could be so busy for me that I would not even remember or have the luxury of taking my first meal, without fasting, till 10:00 p.m. when the day’s deal was delightfully done!

Part of the memorability of the day was the simplicity, amiability and the totality of the personality of the leader of the team, Prof. (Mrs) Funmi Togonu-Bickerst, an amazon of the highest order. Having encountered the calibre of resource persons deployed by TETFUND during the defence of the same project in Abuja with the late Dr De Campos on March 11, 2015, I knew what to expect to some extent but the visiting team leader struck a chord in me as a true manifestation of the Mozartian postulation of simplicity being the true mark of a genius.

As I told her, because I couldn’t hide it, she left indelible imprints of thoroughness, mentoring, learning experience and inspiration on our minds that could even be considered as major impacts of the project. Until we got to know at a later stage during the stimulating and exciting encounter, when one of us suggested some kind of introduction, nothing about the carriage and comportment of this astute academic suggested that she was a Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Obafemi Awolowo University and a university lecturer of 40 years. One would get to know that the paragon of academic sophistication started her academic career at a time I was starting my primary education or that she is the Pro-Chancellor and Governing Council Chairman of a Federal University in Nigeria. During that day-long engagement and when she still invited me to interact with her team at the Researchers’ Lodge of the University, I found her persona inspirational.

Since the project that the team came to inspect borders on curriculum development, curriculum being the nerve-centre or heartbeat of any educational institution or programme, at night, my mind wandered around the day’s activities until I wondered about our contemporary ‘hidden curriculum’, a term first used by Phillip Jackson in his 1968 book, Life in Classrooms (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston). ‘Hidden curriculum’, conceptually, is what students experience especially in the school environment rather than the actual one taught in the classroom. In the hidden curriculum lie the hidden goals of education which are to conform and adapt to the expectations of the society one lives in. After all, education is for the betterment of the society.

That educated people are expected to be refined in their thoughts and actions is part of the hidden curriculum of the beauty expected of an educational environment. In fact, that universities and schools have rules and regulations well spelt out with consequences of violations is part of the hidden curriculum suggesting that to survive in the society, one has to obey laws and avoid crime. In other words, everything a student is made to experience outside the four walls of the classroom in an institution is part of the hidden curriculum.

For instance, if the University of Ilorin prioritises character and learning, character appertains to the hidden curriculum while learning manifests in the open curriculum or contents taught in the various courses. If the University treasures hard work and excellence, it is part of the hidden curriculum that students are to imbibe. If the University insists on a dress code, it is a component of the hidden curriculum of what is socially acceptable within the cultural milieu of Nigeria and Africa at large because appearance shows the manner and one is to dress the way one wants to be addressed.

In the past, educational institutions produced people in whom character and learning, the hidden and open curricula, converged to make wholes. Therefore, a typical graduate conformed to the rules and expectations of the society as good ambassadors, refined, cultured, good, decent, kind and wholesome. At the time, students were only influenced by the local, the immediate and the physically close: teachers and lecturers, parents and peers who shared the same values and norms with them. Enough funding was also provided to make the environment conducive to learning, with the ambience radiating positivity into the learners.

Unfortunately, today, the pendulum of the hidden curriculum swings between the local and the global, the real and the surreal. Rather than be influenced by parents, teachers and the immediate school environment, students today are mostly influenced by the physically distant, the essentially virtual and the culturally vacuous. They know the names of the foul-mouthed musicians but they do not know those of their lecturers, even in their Departments. Their hidden curriculum is largely informed by lousy and lascivious celebrities that they follow upandan on the social media, the morally bankrupt entertainers whose perverse ways the students emulate, and the get-rich-quick-syndrome of the dim-witted ‘stars’ whose fake lifestyles on Instagram impress only the impressionistic and the simpleton.

Though nothing can be done to stop the pendulum of the ‘hidden curriculum’ from swinging because in today’s era of dotcom burst,  the global is part of the local and the local is part of the global, no effort should still be spared in ensuring that the threatened local values are jealously guarded. This is why the University must continue to insist of discipline, probity, excellence, standard and character so that when students graduate, such values will be part of their educational experience.

One area of importance for the University to insist on is that, apart from the outlawed indecent dressing, which many universities have now adopted, a structure is put in place to ban the “campus couple syndrome” (or the illegal cohabitation of single male and female students) even if it operates outside the University gate as I had reasons to espouse some time ago (at Ultimately,  the hidden curriculum must always emphasise the noble, the ideal and the culturally acceptable norms, not the new normal of the ubiquitous new media.