A recent reply by the Minister of Basic Education to a DA question has re-ignited the debate on whether or not history should be made a compulsory school subject.
It needs to be made clear that history is already a compulsory subject for all learners up until the end of Grade 9. The DA supports this because all learners should emerge from school with a solid understanding of the history of their country, their continent and the world.
At issue is whether history should be made compulsory until the end of Grade 12 (the Further Education and Training or FET phase). A ministerial task team is currently looking into the desirability and feasibility of this.
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.
In the FET phase, learners should have some latitude to decide for themselves what their area of specialisation will be. If a learner wants to be an engineer, for example, she should be free to decide on three elective subjects that will improve her prospects of succeeding as an engineer.
This does not mean that it is acceptable for learners to leave school without a rich understanding of our complex history and the foundations of our constitutional democracy. Indeed, our current curriculum already provides for this.
The compulsory history curriculum up until the end of Grade 9 includes a diverse array of modules covering African and South African history from ancient times to the struggle against apartheid to the present day.
This is augmented with the ‘democracy and human rights’ module in life orientation (compulsory to Grade 12) that covers topics such as ‘diversity, discrimination, human rights and violations’, ‘democratic participation and democratic structures’ and ‘responsible citizenship’.
If learners are finishing school without a sound knowledge of our past and how it shaped the present, then the problem lies with the quality of teaching and not the curriculum.
According to the Minister of Basic Education, the task team she has set up will complete its work at the end of November 2017. We look forward to the task team’s report and trust there will be widespread consultation before any decisions are made.