Forced history till matric is disaster: teachers
A government plan to phase in compulsory history is met with very mixed responses from academics
A recommendation that history be phased in as a compulsory subject in grades 10 to12 has received strong but wide-ranging views from historian and academics.
Peter Kallaway, retired emeritus professor of education at the University of the Western Cape, has dubbed the move a “disaster” while Marjorie Brown, the head of department for senior school history at Roedean School in Johannesburg, warned against the subject being “dumbed down”.But history textbook writer Gengs Pillay said the recommendation was “great news for South Africa”.
The history task team has recommended that history be phased in between 2023 and 2025, so that there is sufficient time to produce more history teachers.
It also recommended that life orientation as a compulsory subject in grades 10 to 12 be scrapped.
“If they are going to do it, [make history compulsory] it will be a disaster,” Kallaway said. “Where are the teachers going to come from?”
His concerns echo the main finding of a study that was jointly undertaken by the University of Johannesburg and the University of the Witwatersrand, which was that South Africa’s universities were not in a position to produce a sufficient number of history teachers to meet the need if the subject were made compulsory in grades 10 to 12.The study, which involved 20 of the education faculties that offered history, found that financial constraints limited the faculties’ capacity to appoint academic staff, which resulted in a few academics teaching large history classes.
Kallaway, who declined an invitation by the Department of Basic Education to serve on the task team which was appointed in June 2015, informed the DBE in a letter at the time that its desire to make history compulsory did not address key issues.
“Nothing short of a comprehensive look at the whole history education area and its relation to the rest of the curriculum is needed if we are to understand the nature of the problem.
“The view that the role of history in school is to promote ‘a sense of nationalism, patriotism and national unity’ lies at the core of the problem. The teaching of history in schools is viewed in radically different terms, as any look at comparative curricula will demonstrate.”
He wrote: “The teaching of history in schools needs to engage with issues of great importance to young people who are seeking a critical understanding of the world they live in.“My view is that unless we are able to motivate the students and the teachers to teach and learn in a critical manner we will do little service to education, or to our students, by forcing them to participate in a compulsory history curriculum.”
Kallaway told Times Select on Thursday: “Is this just another form of nationalist history being rammed down kids throats like it was during apartheid or is this really an attempt to promote critical thinking in schools? I wouldn’t oppose the idea if I knew that it could be done with some kind of honour.”The task team acknowledged that the lack of qualified history teachers “poses a serious challenge and, naturally, most of the unqualified teachers/educators adopt a negative attitude towards teaching history, ignorant of the fact that history offers life-long learning skills”.
It said budgetary matters would have implications for the rollout and implementation of compulsory history in grades 10 to 12 and that, if a phased approach was considered, it would allow for better planning and teachers to be trained.
The task team recommended that the department provide bursaries for trainee history teachers.
“Good teacher development programmes offered by universities and colleges should produce history educators with sympathetic and informed understanding of humanity and the human condition.”
The team found that the CAPS curriculum had serious limitations and that a complete overhaul of CAPS was required.
“Africa-centredness should become a principle in revising the history content.”
It recommended that two final-year exam papers be set in matric with paper one focusing on African history and paper two on history of the wider world, including Europe.Meanwhile, Brown said: “What worries me is that if it’s a compulsory subject, you need far more well-qualified history teachers. As soon as you make a subject compulsory and you don’t have well-qualified teachers, you dumb it down.”
But Pillay said that in the interest of social cohesion, reconciliation and nation building, history should have been made compulsory in the senior grades in 1994.
“It’s great news for the country. Hopefully, the curriculum will be reflective of the entire nation. It should be a decolonised curriculum which includes the voices of unsung heroes and heroines. It shouldn’t be a curriculum of the victors.”
Pillay said that when looking at resistance history, the role played by Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa as well as that of the Natal Indian Congress should be included.
He said that life orientation was very general and teachers did not have “the requisite qualifications to teach it”.
“Children were receiving inflated marks for particular tasks and there was no evidence that kids were turning out better.”