The announcement by Minister of Education Angie Motshekga that history will be made compulsory from grades 10 to 12 by 2022 has opened up many debates at many levels.
But the debate about what subjects should be included in the syllabus should not be decided by how wonderful a subject is but how relevant it is to help learners to grow and to enable them to choose a career based on their aptitudes and interests.
The current matriculation requirements have their roots in an era almost a century ago when access to information was extremely limited and so were choices. Little thought has been given to the relevance of these subjects in the current situation, where artificial intelligence should be of paramount concern.
In the past, students who left school at standard eight, now grade 10, could find work as teachers or in factories and, through years of training in the workplace, could work their way up to becoming managers and directors.
Today, many of the old types of factories are closed and new industries have arisen, requiring different or specialised skills.
The qualifications for the new jobs of the future are being offered by our technical colleges and the internet by distance learning and not in our schools and costly universities.
Many subjects still have to be rote learned and that is probably one of the worst ways of learning.
Unfortunately, history happens to be one of them, which is about dates, names and places and stories long back in time, which will all be forgotten shortly after the exams and will have little bearing on the individual’s future.
The other big problem about history is whether one can trust the author to be totally unbiased, especially if it is written by someone who favours a particular system or political party, as was the case under apartheid.
The subjects that are essential at an elementary level should enable a child to grasp the principles of reading, writing and counting.
We must start placing more emphasis on life-orientation subjects that deal with the learners’ social, personal and physical development, health promotion and approach to work, and work ethics.
Archaic rote learning in our schools and universities must be replaced by methods that teach critical thinking and analysis.
Life orientation should be taught from an early age to equip children to make the right choices in their lives before they are misled by their ignorant peers and run the risk of becoming total wrecks before they finish high school because of drug abuse and sexual promiscuity.
Children should be introduced to information technology and business skills to make them entrepreneurs and to prepare them for the job market. They should be taught how to save and invest. This know-ledge will be of more use to them than to learn about which battle was fought when and where.
Other areas that have been sorely neglected in our school curricula are verbal communication skills and the arts. We speak almost 90% of the time but only 10% of the time is devoted to speaking skills. It is not surprising that so many job seekers fare so badly at job interviews.
According to Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, “if we do not change the way we teach our children, we will be in big trouble in 30 years” — as though we are not in trouble already.
Experts have been predicting that 50% of the current jobs will be redundant in 30 years but few have come up with ways to prepare our youth for the fourth revolution.
Alvin Toffler, in his book Future Shock, written in the 1970s, advised societies in the 21st century “to learn, to unlearn, to relearn”. Clearly our experts haven’t taken his advice.
If we wish to avoid a catastrophe in our education then the policy and design of the curriculum should be made with contributions from all the stakeholders and not just a handful of self-acclaimed experts, as it was always done in the past.
Finally, no student should be forced to do a particular subject. They must be allowed to choose subjects based on their aptitudes and interests, with the help of career guidance counsellors; after all, it is the individual’s future at stake and not that of the expert, whose only interest is to award worthless certificates, which merely swells the ranks of the educated unemployed.
Dr EV Rapiti is a family physician, specialising in child and mental health and addiction counselling