Restor­ing sta­tus of his­tory in schools was cru­cial in the age of fake news

Wicklow People (West Edition) - - OPINION -

IN the age of fake news, and at a time when so­ci­ety is so di­vided, it is very re­as­sur­ing to see the Govern­ment recog­nise the im­por­tance of his­tory in our schools. Re­cently, in a de­ci­sion that should have con­cerned any­one wor­ried about the state of our world, the Na­tional Coun­cil for Cur­ricu­lum and As­sess­ment ruled that His­tory should re­main an op­tional sub­ject for Ju­nior Cert stu­dents.

Many had hoped that the coun­cil would over­turn the con­tro­ver­sial 2018 de­ci­sion to strip his­tory of its manda­tory sta­tus but those hopes were dashed late last month. Thank­fully, Educ­tion Min­is­ter Joe McHugh has stepped in and re­stored his­tory to core sub­ject sta­tus.

It is en­tirely un­der­stand­able that His­tory is an op­tional sub­ject at Leav­ing Cert level. The Leav­ing Cert and the points race can de­cide a per­son’s en­tire fu­ture.

Forc­ing a stu­dent to sit an exam – with po­ten­tially price­less points on the line – on a sub­ject they don’t have an ap­ti­tude for would be re­mark­ably un­fair.

How­ever, that is not an is­sue at Ju­nior Cert level. The Ju­nior Cert is de­signed to pro­vide all stu­dents – and in­deed all cit­i­zens – with a well-bal­anced and rounded educ­tion.

Ob­vi­ously a ba­sic knowl­edge of maths and lan­guage are vi­tal for ev­ery­one but in terms of a well-rounded ed­u­ca­tion, a rea­son­able knowl­edge of his­tory is cru­cial.

Ir­ish is com­pul­sory be­cause it is an in­trin­sic part of Ire­land’s cul­ture and our iden­tity. The same can be said of our na­tion’s past which plays as much a part in our iden­tity and our cul­tural make-up as our lan­guage?

As the fall­out from Brexit con­tin­ues, many com­men­ta­tors have cited the UK pop­u­lace’s ab­ject knowl­edge of his­tory – due to the dis­mal qual­ity of his­tory teach­ing in UK schools – as a key fac­tor in the out­come of the ref­er­en­dum.

In­stead of ac­tual, rel­e­vant his­tory many in the UK have grown up on a diet of jin­go­is­tic im­pe­rial pro­pa­ganda.

Sim­i­lar is­sues can be seen across the At­lantic and in Rus­sia where the forces of con­ser­vatism and the far right are also on the rise.

Teach­ing his­tory prop­erly in schools wouldn’t have stopped this but it would cer­tainly have helped lessen the rise of the mil­i­tant and racist el­e­ments that have come to dom­i­nate the far right.

We live in an age of fake news and con­tent that is in­creas­ingly tai­lored to suit the opin­ions of its con­sumers.

A bet­ter knowl­edge of his­tory and world af­fairs might at least help some peo­ple bet­ter sift the real news from the lies and dis­guised hate speech.

Do we re­ally want live in a world where some­one could have fin­ished their school­ing with­out ever hear­ing a les­son on the Ir­ish Famine or the dev­as­ta­tion wrought by the Troubles?

What of the age of ex­plo­ration and im­pe­ri­al­ism, the Re­nais­sance, the Cold War or the Holo­caust?

His­tory is the story of our coun­try and our world. If we don’t heed it’s lessons we are doomed to repeat them. Imag­ine how bad things would get if we never heard those lessons at all.

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