Education task team — History should be a compulsory school subject from 2023

A ministerial task team established by the basic education department has recommended that history should be a compulsory subject in South African schools from 2023.

The task team was established in 2015 after there was a “perceived lack of knowledge of the country’s history among learners”. The concern among department officials was that in a society still facing transformational challenges from a legacy of apartheid and colonialism, South Africans students are struggling to fully understand the context in which they live.

The team’s mandate was to decide if it is feasible for history to be made compulsory for students from Grade 10 until Grade 12, commonly known as the further education and training (FET) phase. In the current curriculum, the subject is compulsory until Grade 9. After Grade 9, it becomes an elective option for learners.

However in a report titled “Report of the History Ministerial Task Team”, which was released on Tuesday, the task team said history should feasibly become a compulsory subject in 2023 by replacing Life Orientation. The team came to this conclusion after it spent three years investigating how 12 other countries — including Russia, Zimbabwe, and Rwanda — have taught history in schools.

The majority of countries in both Africa and Europe — much like South Africa — offered history as an elective option in high school.

But the task team has recommended that South African learners would benefit from history being taught as a compulsory subject until the end of matric.

“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 an historical narrative,” the task team said in its report.

READ MORE: History is our school’s power tool

The task team, warned however, that a five-year phase-in period is necessary to allow the department time to prepare to make history a compulsory subject.

“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,” the report reads.

History has been debated in both schools and universities for the different ways it can be taught and what the curriculum should include or exclude. The report itself highlights that there are issues with the current curriculum that should be revised.

A new history curriculum

In a reflection of the current curriculum, the task team raised a number of concerns namely gender, the celebration of Eurocentric history and the need for more Afrocentric history.

“The curriculum is very much like the post-1994 sanitised interim-curriculum, in that it is very Eurocentric,” the report says.

READ MORE: Motshekga looks to history to fix SA’s pride

On gender, the report finds that the current curriculum has excluded women, particularly black women. When prominent historical figures are mentioned in the classroom, the report notes, they are usually men.

“Little attention has been paid to gender issues and the previous emphasison ‘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 report reads.

The task team also noted that racial tensions are entrenched in the way learners are exposed to South African history, because the content is not geared towards educating learners fully about the struggle of black people against oppression.

“The content appears to reinforce racial division rather than multi-vocality or multi–perspectives. Black and white histories are still compartmentalised. For example, transformation in southern Africa after 1750 is separated from colonial expansion after 1750. Furthermore, the content reinforces a memory of oppression, not of active resistance or agency,” the report reads.

There was significant pushback by African empires, kingdoms, chiefdoms and polities [sic] against the colonial front, but these are never celebrated, nor are the morefluid relationships, interactions and experiences that occurred in these spaces,” the report states.

While there has been some support for history to be made a compulsory subject there has also been backlash. In 2017, Democratic Alliance (DA) said that making history compulsory would hinder learns’ ability to make their own choices.

“At face value, the DA does not support making history compulsory in the FET phase on the grounds that it will curtail learner choices. Learners are already compelled to take their home language, a second language, mathematics/maths literacy and life orientation in this phase, leaving just three electives,” said Gavin Davis, the then DA shadow minister for basic education.

Basic education minister Angie Motshekga, however, has said that she would support history being taught as a compulsory subject.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Raeesa Pather
Raeesa Pather
Ra’eesa Pather is a Cape Town-based general news and features journalist.

Where is the deputy president?

David Mabuza is hard at work — it’s just not taking place in the public eye. The rumblings and discussion in the ANC are about factions in the ruling party, succession and ousting him

Zuma turns on judiciary as trial nears

Former president says pre-trial correspondence is part of another plot

High court declares Dudu Myeni delinquent

Disgraced former SAA chairperson Dudu Myeni has been declared a delinquent director by the...

SANDF inquiry clears soldiers of the death of Collins Khosa

The board of inquiry also found that it was Khosa and his brother-in-law Thabiso Muvhango who caused the altercation with the defence force members

Press Releases

Covid-19 and Back to School Webinar

If our educators can take care of themselves, they can take care of the children they teach

5G technology is the future

Besides a healthcare problem Covid-19 is also a data issue and 5G technology, with its lightning speed, can help to curb its spread

JTI off to court for tobacco ban: Government not listening to industry or consumers

The tobacco ban places 109 000 jobs and 179 000 wholesalers and retailers at risk — including the livelihood of emerging farmers

Holistic Financial Planning for Professionals Webinar

Our lives are constantly in flux, so it makes sense that your financial planning must be reviewed frequently — preferably on an annual basis

Undeterred by Covid-19 pandemic, China and Africa hold hands, building a community of a shared future for mankind

It is clear that building a community with a shared future for all mankind has become a more pressing task than ever before

Wills, Estate Administration and Succession Planning Webinar

Capital Legacy has had no slowdown in lockdown regarding turnaround with clients, in storing or retrieving wills and in answering their questions

Call for Expression of Interest: Training supply and needs assessment to support the energy transition in South Africa

GIZ invites eligible and professional companies with local presence in South Africa to participate in this tender to support the energy transition

Obituary: Mohammed Tikly

His legacy will live on in the vision he shared for a brighter more socially just future, in which racism and discrimination are things of the past

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday