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History subject to be made compulsory and more Africa-centred

Tammy Petersen

A ministerial task team has recommended that history be made a compulsory school subject, according to a report released by the Department of Basic Education on Thursday.

It also recommended that Grade 12 pupils write two final exam papers on the subject – one focusing on African history and the other on world history.

The task team was established in 2015 and given terms of reference to conduct a comparative international study on how to best implement the introduction of history as a compulsory subject up until matric.

It was also tasked with reviewing and improving the content.

In its report, the group concluded that “good history education promotes sympathetic and informed understanding of humanity and the human condition”.

Phased approach

The task team recommended a phased approach and that compulsory history be introduced after five years to allow planning.

It recommended that “Africa-centeredness” become a principle in revisiting content, specifically that both ancient and pre-colonial African history be brought into the curriculum for Grades 10 to 12.

“This is critical to understanding the layered history of South Africa and the continent of Africa at a more developed conceptual level,” the report reads.

“We recognise that certain aspects of pre-colonial history are taught [in Grades R to 9]. However, this tends to be portrayed as a ‘happy story’, appropriate to that level, but fails to provide the nuanced and complex history which should be taught at a higher level [in Grades 10 to 12].”

Problematic and controversial issues and themes, such as class, social stratification and the status of women and workers in ancient and pre-colonial history, must be included, the team recommended.

The task team also found strong circumstantial evidence that many schools avoided teaching apartheid history, although it is included in the current curriculum, the report reads.

“The historical content offered in schools should not avoid areas of conflict facing our divided country. We run the risk that we will return to the pre-1994 era when the African past was left out of the curriculum and past events were fabricated, exaggerated or evaluated by dated standards devoid of historical understanding.”

It endorsed that history remain independent and not be incorporated with Life Orientation, as it would then not be taught by trained subject professionals and would become a “hybrid subject” not recognised for university entry.

The subject should be taught by trained professionals while prospective teachers should have history as one of their majors at undergraduate level, and teacher development should be done together with universities and should not be the sole responsibility of the national and provincial education departments, the task team found.

Teacher development

History teaching in the general education and training band – from Grades R to 9 – needed “urgent attention and strengthening”, the report reads. The task team recommended that history and geography be separated, and that content be revised.

It warned that it could not be assumed that any qualified teacher was able to teach history satisfactorily and that funding and teacher development would be important.

The report was launched by Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga on Thursday.

Spokesperson Troy Martens explained that the report would be processed by the Council of Education Ministers, which would then be followed by consultation, before a policy development process took place. -News24

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