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Re-introduction of history and matters arising

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Prof. Junaidu. Photo: FACEBOOK/ NERDC

For almost a decade, the federal government has stopped the teaching of history in primary and secondary schools. It is not known what the impact of such a step would have been. Thankfully, in 2019, the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari is having a rethink, writes Head, Education Desk, IYABO LAWAL

For almost a decade, the Federal Government stopped the teaching of history in primary and secondary schools in the country and the consequence is apparent. Since 2016, the government has said history will be re-introduced in the education curriculum.

In 2017, the Nigeria Education Research and Development Council (NERDC) even announced it was set to reintroduce history as a subject, beginning from the 2018/2019 academic session.

The NERDC Executive Secretary, Prof. Ismail Junaidu, had stated that the curriculum was ready and would be a standalone curriculum that would be taught from primary one to JSS III, after the National Council on Education (NCE) had approved the reintroduction of the subject.

In 2018, the Federal Government unveiled a new curriculum for the teaching and learning of the subject in basic schools across the country. The new curriculum was approved at the 63rd meeting of the NCE, which held in Kano in June 2017.

The executive secretary said the NERDC had forwarded a sample of the new curriculum for history to the states to give them ample time to plan ahead of its implementation.

“All states are expected to be sensitised and teachers trained on how to use the curriculum before the implementation can begin. We need to give the states ample time to put their houses in order before we start implementing the curriculum,” Junaidu had said.

Speaking further, he stated: “We have begun work on the curriculum because the NCE has given the directive, it will soon get to schools. The implementation will commence in the next academic session.’

A professor of Legal History at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, Dr Akin Alao while reacting to the pronouncement had noted: “It is a welcome development, which should be applauded. A country without a sense of history is a soulless country. It could safely be said that many of the challenges facing state and nation-building efforts in Nigeria are as a result of the neglect of history.”

Alao added: “History of inter-group relations in Nigeria has confirmed the extent of interactions among Nigerian ethnic groups or nationalities long before the imposition of colonial rule. It would have been the duty of History as a subject in schools, to bring these truths to young Nigerians to influence their understanding of life and what roles they could play in cementing the relationship among groups. It would also have meant that young impressionable Nigerians very early in life develop positive self-concept and awareness that would be the basis for the emergence of an identity that will be truly national and well-conceived.

“History has values in developing the mind and there is no discipline without its own history, including medicine. What is required is the acquisition of the techniques of history. For example, a lawyer has to know, understand and consider the two sides of a coin to make a good case. A medical doctor needs the history of the patient and the ailment before he can have a successful diagnosis. An architect must have a sense of history to know what designs will meet specific needs. An administrator must be very familiar with the history of the people before he can administer successfully.”

Little wonder, it was cheery news to many when the presidency said the Federal Government is taking steps to restore history as a subject in primary and secondary schools’ curriculum.

Nigeria, during the 2009/2010 academic session, removed the study of history from primary and secondary schools’ curriculum. Official reasons given for removing history as a subject were, students shun the subject, as well as only a few jobs available for history graduates, and that there is a dearth of history teachers. To date, Nigeria has no official account of 1967 to 1970 civil war.

Some seven years after, the government feels it had taken the wrong decision.

Adamu had explained, “Somebody, who doesn’t know his history is even worse than (being) dead. So, this government is going to bring back history. It would even be better if we study local history first. You have to know who you are before you can be anything in this world.

At a conference of the History of Education Society of Nigeria held in December, at the University of Ibadan (UI), Michael Omolewa, Emeritus Professor of History and former chairman of the committee of Deans of Education of Nigerian universities had noted that it is an irony of history that as Nigeria marked its first 100 years of being a country, History no longer exists as a core subject in schools at the basic and secondary levels.

Many education experts attest to the value of history for nation building or development of an individual, his society or larger community.

The appreciation of the status of history is shown in the observation by an elder statesman, Nwafor Orizu, who asserted in 1944, in his book, Without Bitterness that unless Nigerians know what they are and how they came about to be what they are, they will be unable to know where and how to go further.

Could it be that history no longer has a place in the country’s contemporary existence? Prof. Alice Jekayinfa, President of the History of Education Society of Nigeria, noted that teaching history is instrumental to the personal and national development of any country.

“History, as a discipline, has been relegated in Nigeria, whereas the discipline is the bedrock of any nation.”

In 1954, Sir Sidney Philipson, a British administrator and Chief Simeon Adebo, a seasoned Nigerian civil servant, said, “Every situation has its roots in the past and the past survives in the present; the present is indeed the past undergoing modification.”

History experts further noted, “By recognising what we hold in common we can begin to live in peace. We can all recognise our relationship to each other and to the past.”

Prior to the 2009/2010 academic session when History ceased to be taught in schools, the first schools founded in Nigeria by missionaries, the traditional status of history as an important subject flourished and the teaching of history continued to be given adequate space in learning and teaching.

During the colonial period, education ordinance made provision for the study of history even though it was just English history.

But with a raging sense of their own history, the early educated elites challenged the absence of the study of African history in the school curriculum. Samuel Johnson, who later wrote the history of the Yoruba, was not pleased with only the history of England, Rome and Greece being taught. Buoyed by a sense of history, he wrote the seminal work on Yoruba history.

As undesirable as the colonial masters might have been, they ensured that history was given ample time on the school timetable. The subject was among those selected for examination by the British examination boards that were invited to assess secondary school performance in Nigeria (the University of London from 1887; Cambridge University from 1910 and Oxford University from 1929).

Examination questions were aimed at examining the student’s ability to explain policies, discuss events, describe major reforms, compare personalities and identify major problems confronting leaders to help the learners acquire critical spirit.

Underscoring the potency of history teaching, a pupil of King’s College, Lagos as of that time, Anthony Enahoro, said of a teacher, “Our History master, for reasons best known to him, decided to teach as if he was preparing us for a political career rather than for examinations.” Enahoro would later go on to move the motion for Nigeria’s independence.

Soon, History became a favourite subject on the schools’ curriculum at Independence in Nigeria. The Department of History, first of the University College, Ibadan and later of the University of Ibadan began to review the school curriculum to introduce aspects of Nigerian and African History.

History as a subject also featured prominently at the Higher School Certificate (HSC) programme, which sought to prepare students for admission to the universities. By 1966, it was among the most favoured subjects at the HSC examinations, and in which the candidates excelled. While the ‘principal passes’ in English was 244, Latin 3, Geography 269, Mathematics 88 and French 19, History recorded 414.

Omolewa recalled that the course of the teaching of history was adversely affected by the events, which followed the convening of the 1969 national curriculum conference, later by the adoption of a national policy of education, and the subsequent arrival of the 6-3-3-4 education system.

“The 1969 conference which was expected to bring hope to the country’s educational system turned out to be the beginning of the decline of history teaching in schools. In the end, the curriculum reform, which grew from that conference, led to the reduction of the status of history. Eventually, history was expunged first from the primary and the junior school curriculum, and later at the senior school level,” Prof. Omolewa asserted.

He linked “the historic assault on history teaching” to the assumptions of the American-trained educators, the impact of the United States-assisted Ohio Project, the Ayetoro Project, the Comparative Education Studies and Adaptation Centre (CESAC), and the contribution of the Nigerian Educational Research Council (NERC).

The government and conscientious history scholars have a lot to do to ensure that the subject takes back its rightful place in the school curriculum and that it becomes even more attractive for students.

This is so because fewer students are willing to study the subject that had dramatically disappeared from the school curriculum. Today, few universities have a dedicated department of History, having merged History with Strategic Studies, International Studies or Diplomatic Studies, “partly due to Nigeria’s preference for style over substance, and partly to make the subject attractive to young undergraduates and thus address their career prospects,” Omolewa said.

If Americans could be proud to learn about George Washington; the American civil war or the declaration speech; John Kennedy; Abraham Lincoln; and other great leaders of their country, why are Nigerian schoolchildren deprived of learning about past events and people?

Well, the time to wait is not long anymore. By the time a new session starts in September, kids should be able to tell the history of their fatherland.

Reacting to the development, a Professor of History and former vice-chancellor, Caleb University, Ayodeji Olukoju said since education is on the concurrent list, inter and intra tier collaboration is required in returning History to the curriculum.

He said: “First, stakeholders should work out the content of the syllabus to suit the context. Second, as this is a culturally diverse federation, the local, state, regional and ethnocultural contexts should be incorporated in the content. Hence, the syllabus will have a series of concentric circles to reflect these contexts.

“Third, separate texts should be developed for primaries one to three; Primaries four to six and Junior Secondary School one to three. While Education History graduates should work out the pedagogy, core historians should produce the content. Finally, each text should be produced to suit the peculiarities of the learning stage of the users, both students and teachers, including illustrations and sample questions as appropriate.

On how to remedy the dearth of teachers in the subject, Olukoju said: “Recruiting History teachers should be done systematically and in phases, as the subject is injected into the different levels of schooling. Candidates who obtained a minimum of SSCE credit pass in History should be given priority in admissions into NCE and degree programmes in Education History and History major. Incentives should be provided in the short run to encourage prospective teachers as was done for education science students. Regular in-service training should also be conducted to improve teaching skills.”

“History has values in developing the mind and there is no discipline without its own history, including medicine. What is required is the acquisition of the techniques of history. For example, a lawyer has to know, understand and consider the two sides of a coin to make a good case. A medical doctor needs the history of the patient and the ailment before he can have a successful diagnosis. An architect must have a sense of history to know what designs will meet specific needs. An administrator must be very familiar with the history of the people before he can administer successfully.”

“If Americans could be proud to learn about George Washington; the American civil war or the declaration speech; John Kennedy; Abraham Lincoln; and other great leaders of their country, why are Nigerian schoolchildren deprived of learning about past events and people?”


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