A team of Ministers in education are now proposing that history should become a compulsory school subject by 2023 based on comparative case studies conducted in 13 countries including Russia, China, Zimbabwe and Rwanda. The team recommended history due to the involvement of problem-solving and analytical skills while Life Orientation is faded out. Life Orientation will remain a compulsory subject until grade 9 and will then be replaced by history.
Many people have complained about this proposal, arguing that in Zimbabwe, history is used as a political propaganda tool and the syllabus in government schools is reportedly biased in favour of the ruling Zanu-PF.
The Department of Basic Education reported on Tuesday: “In 2015 the department hosted the inaugural History Roundtable where the Ministerial Task Team, led by Professor Sibusiso Ndlovu, was established and given terms of reference to conduct a comparative international study on how best to implement the introduction of history as a compulsory subject in FET schools. The team was also responsible for the review and strengthening of the content of history in the FET and the general education and training bands.”
The education minister had previously listed the benefits of teaching history in schools as adding to nation building‚ national pride‚ patriotism‚ social cohesion and cultural heritage. The notion of making history a compulsory subject began in 2014 due to the “perceived lack of knowledge of the country’s history among learners”. The Basic Education Department's Elijah Mhlanga says: “And making sure that our history books reflect correctly a true story of South Africa.” The government is concerned that students are not fully understanding the history of the country's struggle and the context of the transforming society they live in due to the legacy of apartheid and colonialism.
The report read: “History education at school has the potential to offer explanatory, analytical and interpretative skills. Ideally, learners have to be capable to assess arguments and develop an ability to construct counter-arguments which have to be synthesised within a historical narrative. The MTT [ministerial task team] recommends the implementation of a phased approach which would allow the DBE [Department of Basic Education] to plan accordingly and for teachers to be trained and retrained in order to begin the process. Hence this phased approach will necessitate that compulsory history be introduced after five years of careful planning.” However, the DA objected saying that learners shouldn't be forced to study history and that "Not only will this curtail learner choices‚ it is likely to divert resources away from where they are needed most – in mathematics‚ the sciences and languages.”
The task team is looking into changing what they deem a Eurocentric history curriculum to a more Afrocentric curriculum saying that “The curriculum is very much like the post-1994 sanitised interim-curriculum, in that it is very Eurocentric. Little attention has been paid to gender issues and the previous emphasis on ‘great white’ men have simply been replaced with ‘great black’ men. Furthermore, there is an overwhelming focus on the leaders and little attention is paid to the people, including the ordinary people on the street."
The team also concluded that racial tensions are rooted in the way that learners are shown South African history because the current curriculum doesn't fully cover the struggle of the black nation against oppression, highlighting division rather than allowing different perspectives.