Current South African history syllabus in need of a makeover

By Orateng Lepodise 31 May 2018

Recommending that history be a compulsory subject between Grade 10 and 12, a task team has said that the current South African syllabus lacks credible content, concepts, and methods which are foundational keys to African History.

History is set to be made a compulsory subject between Grade 10 and Grade 12.

On Thursday the Department of Basic Education history MTT (Ministerial Task Team) outlined its findings and recommendations at a launch of its history report at a briefing in Pretoria.

The report argued that the Curriculum and Policy Statement (CAPS) has a biased approach towards the liberal school of thought as a dominant historiographical paradigm in South Africa. This is despite the fact that there are five schools of thought in South Africa: the Afrikaner Nationalist, African Nationalist, Black Consciousness and Marxist or Social history schools to be taken into account.

The African and Black Consciousness schools of thought have been neglected by the CAPS curriculum,” said Professor Sifiso Ndlovu, who was the chairman of the task team.

The team also noted that CAPS only tackles the study of pre-colonial Africa in a superficial manner in the early phases of schooling.

This means that more than 100,000 years of human biological, social and cultural history that unfolded on the African continent are marginal to the curriculum and is dealt with in lower grades,” said the ministerial task team in their report.

This meant that CAPS fails to treat African history adequately as a continent with a rich historical background, they said.

The report also highlighted the importance of archaeology which has a significant absence in the current education curriculum.

If these are not taught, learners are unable to understand how the continent’s very long human history can be discovered, given the sparseness of indigenous written records for Southern Africa,” said the task team.

According to the MTT, what is discernible about the CAPS curriculum is that the teaching of archaeology is done in a systematic way which does not emphasis the links between the Cradle of Humankind site and corresponding sites in East Africa, namely countries like Kenya and Ethiopia. This also includes Egypt which has a crucial archaeology role especially in understanding the ancient history of North Africa.

Even though archaeology studies are covered in CAPS at a lower grade level, the MTT argues that it is taught in an elementary way and is unsatisfactory. Therefore, the MTT suggested that the current syllabus needs to be overhauled, restructured and aligned in phases, taking into consideration the cognitive development of the pupils.

Other recommendations include:

  • By making history a compulsory subject, it should replace life orientation which should be taught until Grade 9 and scrapped as one of the compulsory subjects in the FET level (Grades 10-12);
  • Life orientation content should be strengthened in the GET (Grade 7-9) phase;
  • Life orientation should then be phased out in six years’ time from the FET curriculum and history should be phased in; and
  • Two final-year examination papers in Grade 12 should be introduced with paper one focusing on African History and paper two dealing with history of the wider world, including Europe, to create a fair balance in the curriculum which doesn’t exist in the current one.

If the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga accepts the recommendations it would mean that the teaching time would be increased from 27.5 hours to 29.5 hours, meaning history would be taught for four hours per week.

Ndlovu explained that the object of history education at school should be to enhance everyday life skills such as vocabulary, reading, comprehension, communication, extrapolation and judgment techniques to pupils.

Our aim is to teach learners, through their life experiences, how to use intellectual and social skills to become more effective learners and responsible citizens,” said Ndlovu.

The MTT also recommended that social sciences should be scrapped between Grades 7-9 where you have geography standing alone and history standing alone.

Motshekga suggested that the six-year time frame should be tweaked so that the momentum was not lost in the process.

We will be looking at the time frames properly to see if we cannot bring them forward like we did with CAPS but also not going through shortcuts like we did with the implementation of CAPS,” said Motshekga.

According to the minister, making history compulsory would help pupils develop a sense of pride in their heritage which would also serve as a confidence-booster.

Motshekga said the implementation of history as a compulsory subject would ensure that there was unity in the country and it would help build the nation. DM


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