Bangladesh has completed three full cycles of the primary and secondary (grades 1-12) curriculum development and revision process, which began in 1976. Professor Mohammad Abdul Jabbar was the key person leading these cycles. Hence he is regarded as the guru of the national curriculum of Bangladesh. This father figure of the Bangladeshi curriculum was born in 1931 and breathed his last on January 15, 2016 in Dhaka.
MA Jabbar studied chemistry at the Honours (1952) and Masters (1953) levels in the University of Dhaka (DU). He was keen on education science and obtained the Bachelor of Teaching (BT) degree in 1956 from the Dhaka Teachers Training College (TTC). He then went to the US, studied pedagogy and was awarded an MA in Education from Northern Colorado University in 1961.
Although MA Jabbar's life of service began in 1954 as a college lecturer, his career took off in 1961 with teaching pedagogy at the Institute of Education and Research (IER), DU. However, he left his IER lectureship in 1963 and joined the Government of Pakistan as Assistant Education Adviser. He was promoted to the post of Deputy Education Adviser in 1968. In independent Bangladesh, Prof Jabbar was appointed the Deputy Adviser of Education in 1973.
A National Curriculum and Syllabus Committee (NCSC) was formed in 1976 with more than 40 members, chaired first by Prof Shamsul Haque and later by Prof Zillur Rahman Siddiqi. Prof Jabbar served as its Director and Member-Secretary throughout. His greatest contributions to the Bangladesh curriculum was made during 1976 to 1978 as the key person behind seven volumes of reports on curriculum and syllabus.
Prof Jabbar was the Director of the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC) established in 1981. The NCDC was merged with the Textbook Board in 1984 and thus the National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB) was established. He was appointed the first Member (Curriculum) of the four-member Board of the NCTB in 1984. He served here till 1987. That year, he joined the National Institute of Educational Administration, Extension and Research (NIEAER) as its Director (Administration and Finance) and finished government service in 1988. NIEAER was renamed as the National Academy for Educational Management (NAEM) in 1992.
Prof MA Jabbar, however, never distanced himself from the curriculum process of Bangladesh. The second cycle of curriculum revision went on from 1986 through 1995. Prof Jabbar led the curriculum revision process, working with curriculum-makers more intimately this time as the Chairman of the committee.
As the National Education Policy 2010 was developed and approved, the third cycle of revising the national curriculum went on from 2011 to 2012 based on the new education policy. This time, Dr Siddiqur Rahman (retired Professor of IER, DU) served as the education consultant. Prof Jabbar worked as the Convener of the Technical Committee.
By dedicating his career to education and especially national curriculum matters, Prof MA Jabbar, in essence, became the father of the curriculum of Bangladesh, from primary through to higher secondary. He was such a dedicated curriculum-maker that just a day before his death in 2016, he came to the NCTB from his Uttara house to attend a curriculum meeting. Here, he felt chest pains and was taken to Labaid Hospital. He never made it home from this last curriculum meeting.
After his death, I urged the NCTB and NAEM authorities to honour curriculum guru Prof Jabbar by naming after him the library of one of these apex bodies of education where he spent most of his years. In 2018, NCTB crafted an auditorium adjacent to its library and named it "Mohammad Abdul Jabbar Auditorium". I thank the NCTB authorities for this noble gesture.
As mentioned earlier, Prof Jabbar's greatest contribution was in preparing the seven volumes of the National Curriculum and Syllabus, the very first curriculum documents in independent Bangladesh. This curriculum guru, while preparing lectures on curriculum for the NCTB staff in 2006, informed me that he brought about 1,500 copies of the said seven volumes to the NCTB in 1983 from his NCDC Office at Elephant Road. But only two volumes: Volume 2 (Lower Secondary) and Volume 3 (Middle Secondary) were found in the NCTB Library, and the rest were missing.
Realising the importance of these documents, I urged the concerned authorities for several years to search for the missing volumes, but they failed to pay heed. So, as a disciple of this guru, I started working on collecting the missing documents in February, 2020. Prof Siddiqur Rahman, Ex-Director of IER, DU lent me Volume 5 (Technical and Vocational Education); he also lent some rare education documents from the Pakistan period. Later, I borrowed Volume 1 (Primary) from the NAEM Library, Volume 4 (Higher Secondary) and Volume 6 (Teachers' Training) from education consultant Dr MA Ohab Mia. I found Volume 7 (Assessment and Examination) in the BANBAEIS Library, and made three copies (two for NCTB and one for myself) of each volume.
Prof Mohammad Ali (Member, Curriculum of NCTB during 1995 to 1999) offered me a copy of the primary curriculum of 1991—the first attempt of a "competency-based" curriculum was made in this. Prof Siddiqur Rahman also lent me the primary curriculum of 2002. Being thus inspired, I collected the education commission reports as well, including the Maolana Akram Khan Commission Report (1951) from NAEM Library, and the Sharif Khan Commission Report (1959) and the Kudrat-A–Khuda Commission Report (1974) from Prof Siddiqur Rahman. I was also able to find all other education commission reports—Mafizuddin Commission, 1988; Shamsul Haque Committee, 1997; and Moniruzzaman Mia Commission, 2003—of the Bangladesh period on the BANBEIS website. On January 5, 2021, I submitted two paper copies of each document to the NCTB Library, which will also be uploaded to their website. I hope BANBEIS, NAEM and even the Ministry of Education can also upload these rare documents to their websites, in order to make them available to all and also to ensure they are not lost again.
However, I am yet to find three commission reports from the Pakistan period—the Ataur Rahman Khan Commission, 1957; the Hamidur Rahman Commission, 1964; and the Noor Khan Commission, 1969. All these were preserved at the NAEM Library as "confined documents", but as ill luck would have it, they somehow went missing. I urge the present NAEM authorities to collect the missing copies from wherever possible.
My lone campaign to preserve the works of the eminent Prof MA Jabbar will not be enough. All concerned, especially at the NCTB, must realise the need of preserving and studying these documents, at least before each revision of the curriculum as part of the "situation analysis".
By performing our educational duties properly, we can show our sincere gratitude and honour the memory of Prof MA Jabbar. I pray for the salvation of his departed soul and again, urge all concerned authorities to invest due efforts in education—the most basic of all attempts at national development.
Dr Abdus Sattar Molla is a curriculum researcher (PhD in Science Education from NIE, Singapore) and retired professor of Zoology.