History content must go beyond ’94
THE proposal that history be made a compulsory matric subject has invited speculation as to what the subject content should include and how it should be taught.
Since history embraces all branches of knowledge and experience, its inclusion in a fully-rounded education package should be automatic. But what has hurt the subject going back more than a century, is the content focus that has prevailed: political, ideological and military.
While, of course, the reigns of rulers, the causes and effects of wars and the making of empires are necessary to provide context, such material does not necessarily appeal to the average student. There are numerous other themes that should form a syllabus focus such as: health and medicine, exploration, transport, literary and musical, humanitarianism, industrial development, environment, flight, electricity, trade and construction.
As has been pointed out, the content of a new South African history for high school would have to go beyond 1994. But there lies the difficulty: if such a package focuses purely on the political, it will degenerate into propaganda and be viewed as nothing more than a political prop for those in power.
Thus, an important challenge in shaping a new history syllabus is to ensure a wide focus of themes which educate the pupil as to the extent of and challenges to progress in fields such as transport, infrastructure, industry, health, environment and education, albeit within the context of the political framework that prevailed before 1994.
The other challenge would be to examine how much of what was achieved before 1994 was allowed to deteriorate and decline along with greatly reduced safety and security and greater inequality.
Such a history syllabus would prove instructive and serve as a touchstone for the next generation. DUNCAN DU BOIS