Tuesday 3 November 2015

#MustRead: Bring Back History As Subject To Our Schools

Nigerian Students
by: Bayo Olupohunda

As an educator working in the Nigerian school system, I am still deeply saddened every time I remember how History as a subject has been seemingly unceremoniously expunged from the national curriculum. I consider the removal a great disservice to our educational system.

In my professional interactions with colleagues at conferences, many educators and stakeholders have continued to lament the consequences of removing the subject. The decision is ill-thought out and hurriedly executed. It portends great danger for our cultural heritage, national cohesion and nation-building. The policy, which full implementation began in the 2013/2014 academic session, is capable of putting the final death knell on an educational system already on death throes.

The decision to remove history from the school curriculum took educators by surprise. The Nigeria Union of Teachers during the 2015 World Teachers’ Day condemned the removal of the subject and urged the government to bring back the study of history to our schools. It is still shocking how stakeholders such as the NUT, school administrators and National Parent-Teacher Association of Nigeria can allow this dangerous decision which did not seek their input to be foisted on Nigerians.

The argument for the removal of the subject is untenable. It was claimed that history as a subject was no longer appealing to students as they were refusing to offer the subject. The country’s education administrators also claimed the decision was necessitated by the fact that there were few jobs for history graduates, and there was a dearth of history teachers.

But the assault on the study of history began long before the latest one. Over the years, the subject had been degraded in the national curriculum. Stakeholders have always spoken against the decision and mounted a campaign to bring back history back to the curriculum. A university teacher at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Prof. Peter Nwangwu, recently put the tragedy in proper perspective. Nwangwu while decrying the removal of history from the country’s educational curriculum had said that teaching history was “central to the promotion of all human values.” “History”, according to the don, “is the basis for promoting values; it is also one of the many memory systems that shape our values and morality.”

All over the world, nations recognise the importance of studying history as a basic tool for national development. The renowned Nigerian historian, Prof. Ade Ajayi, once remarked that society “looked up to history for knowledge of the accumulated wisdom of the ancestors, the sense of values, the morality and the norms upon which society was founded.”

History has always been a favourite subject in the school curriculum until policymakers for reasons best known to them began to jettison its study in schools. The events which trailed the convening of the 1969 National Curriculum Conference, followed by the adoption of a National Policy of Education, and the subsequent arrival of the 6-3-3-4 education system. The 1969 conference which was expected to bring hope to the Nigerian educational system turned out to be the beginning of the decline of history teaching in Nigerian schools. In the end, the curriculum reform which grew from that conference led to the reduction of the status of history. Eventually, history was expunged first from the primary and the junior secondary school curricula, and later at the senior school level. Right now, the Nigerian educational system is confused, chaotic and directionless. What manner of country allows private schools teach British history, American history and Oriental history while it removes the learning of Nigerian history from its own public school system? What is our national education goal?

The philosophy of Nigerian educational system as captured in the National Policy of Education seeks to promote national cohesion, a free, just and democratic society. But how do we achieve these without training the young ones the history of our nationhood?

As a teacher, I am often in shock to see how students display a lack of knowledge of Nigerian history as it relates to the present. How can they even understand the dynamics of our contemporary history without an appreciation of how we got here? Students lack the knowledge of our pre-independence years or the struggle for independence. They often draw blank when you mention the heroes and heroines of Nigeria’s historical development. They also lack the knowledge of global history and the place of Nigeria in the global narrative.

It is indeed a sad development that the so-called future leaders lack the knowledge of the history of our nationhood or the appreciation of our diversity and shared destiny. How do we begin to preach the love of country in the younger ones? How do we preach patriotism? Yet, we wonder how other countries have been able to inculcate the spirit of patriotism in their people. Apart from building the culture of responsible leadership to inspire the citizens, the proper teaching of history helps a country and her people appreciate their place in the journey to nationhood. Countries learn from their past mistakes, through the knowledge of history, lessons are learnt and the nation will ultimately move on to greatness. But when a country deliberately removes the study of history as a course of study for its future leaders, they leave the narrative for those who will explore it for other reasons.

In climes such as the United States of America, history still occupies a pride of place in the school system. Students in the US are delighted to learn about the role of George Washington in the country, the story of the civil war or the fight for independence. They learn about John Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln and other great leaders of the US because of their epoch-making and heroic contributions to nation-building. There are convincing arguments about the continued relevance of History in nation building and development.

An emeritus professor of education, Prof Mike Omolewa, in his presentation at the 2014 Conference of the Historical Society of Education at the University of Ibadan, had recalled a tribute made by Prof. Ade Ajayi at the demise of the first indigenous Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan Prof. Kenneth Dike, on behalf of the Historical Society of Nigeria in 1983. Ajayi had drawn attention to the danger posed by the absence of historical consciousness in the Nigerian society: “We have so little consciousness of a time perspective. We act and react as if there is only today, no yesterday, no tomorrow. We seem to care a little about the past, we have no enduring heroes and we respect no precedents. Not surprisingly, we hardly ever consider what kind of a future we are building for our children and our children’s children. We lack statesmen with any sense of history. Politics of the moment dominates our life, leaving no room for evaluating achievement or appreciating merit.”

Stakeholders must demand that history is not just returned to the curriculum but made compulsory for students in our schools.

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