EDITORIAL | Rewriting history gets 100%. Making it compulsory ...


EDITORIAL | Rewriting history gets 100%. Making it compulsory does not

Reworking the syllabus is long overdue, but making it mandatory when there are other priorities is short-sighted


A history ministerial task team report, released in 2018, found the subject content “reinforces a memory of oppression, not of active resistance or agency”. While there was a significant pushback by African empires, kingdoms and chiefdoms against the colonial front in the 1750s, these are never celebrated in the curriculum. It stated that the content about well-developed and advanced African empires is restricted to grades 5 to 7, whose pupils are, by this stage, not well developed in terms of thinking and cognition. The report went on to say that “there is a tendency in the current CAPS (Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement) to prove a racist point that Africa has always been backwards in terms of development”. In short, the team agreed the curriculum is Eurocentric and recommended it become more Africa-centric.

So it came as no surprise when history boffins welcomed a recent announcement by the department of basic education about the history curriculum being rewritten. Basic education minister Angie Motshekga correctly pointed out that “they were quite conscious that there’s lots that needs to be done around the content of history”. Her department, she said, is at a stage where research is being conducted to determine what the correct content will be for the new curriculum, which will be phased in from 2024. Motshekga also clarified that history will not be combined with life orientation (LO), but that LO will continue to be taught as a stand-alone subject until Grade 12.

While the move towards making history more Africa-centric is commendable, academics and scholars have cautioned against hastily introducing curriculum reform. Unisa’s Prof Noor Davids argues that research needs to be conducted at classroom level to assess the state of the subject before embarking on curriculum reform. His colleague, Prof Karen Harris, head of department of historical and heritage studies at the University of Pretoria, said crucially the new curriculum should not only look at content, but skills that equip pupils to develop abilities that enable them to be critical, empathetic, understanding, tolerant and analytical...

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