Friday, 8th December 2023

Unlocking Nigeria’s Future… Why History Education Is Important In Society

By Itunu Azeez Kareem
29 October 2023   |   6:30 am
'The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history,' says George Orwell. This cannot be more accurate when you look at the situation in Nigeria. It is appalling that till this moment, except where necessary, most Nigerian students do not recognise the importance of history, and…

‘The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history,’ says George Orwell.

This cannot be more accurate when you look at the situation in Nigeria. It is appalling that till this moment, except where necessary, most Nigerian students do not recognise the importance of history, and if not needed at all in their subject combination for their admission examination, it is forever forgotten.

As Winston Churchill, the war time Prime Minister of Britain, said, “a nation that forgets its past has no future.”

But do we blame the students? That’s a big no for me, if the educational system has failed to make it compulsory and show its relevance to children, and students as a nation, losing our identity in the long run would be a matter of when and not if.

In a world that appears to favour the present and future over the past, the need for history education cannot be understated. For this main reason, I have so decided as an individual who had passed through the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and taught the subject of history in my two years volunteering as a teacher, I have realised how far back our students are, and how dangerous a road they thread as they continue to grow.

Recently, going through the various subject combinations for University Matriculation Examination (UME) accepted to offer some courses in the university, it is questionable why civic education is more important than history, and even more troubling to why the subject, ‘Government’ is a worthy substitute to History. When, in all honesty, it (History) is all embracing of the former two.

Flipping through the syllabus, the core subjects for ART student are Mathematics, English, and Civic, while the elective ones include History, Yoruba-Igbo-Hausa, meaning they are not compulsory, isn’t this a tragedy on the planning of subjects’ combination for students and as teachers too? These questions of mine may be too much, but I’m sure they are necessary.

In today’s global village, and considering countries we hope to emulate and copy their form of governance and culture, we have unknowingly lost our identity because we have little to offer, while countries like UK, India, China, France, Germany, USA, Canada, South Africa all made it compulsory in their various schools for students irrespective of what they hope to study, whether science oriented course, or commercial field, or even the disciples of arts using their local avenue, History is made compulsory.

Unfortunately, here we lose ours in the abyss of carelessness. Or are we more technologically or politically advanced than these people, if your answer is as good as mine where then do we get it all wrong? Perhaps, just so you know as you read this, all courses and subjects will not exist without history, which is one general importance of this subject matter.

Perhaps, a summation of the importance of history will do, let me quickly run you through its relevance, and compare them to today’s realities. Some great educators have spoken, some are still speaking and many others will speak too.

Fostering Cultural, National Identity

History is not just a subject; it is the key to understanding our cultural and national identity. Dr. Chika Onyeani, an educator, stresses poignantly, “History binds us to our roots and provides a foundation for a shared identity.”

The stories of ancient kingdoms, colonial era and the struggle for independence provide elements that form the essence of Nigeria’s cultural mosaic.
For instance, when students explore the diverse cultural and historical heritage of Nigeria’s many ethnic groups, they develop a deeper appreciation of the country’s rich tapestry. They understand the significance of festivals like the Durbar in Kano and the New Yam Festival in Igboland, which unite Nigerians in celebration of their heritage.

Cultivating Critical Thinkers

History is the fertile ground where critical thinking and analytical skills flourish. Another education expert, Nwaubani, remarks, “History encourages students to think critically, evaluate sources, and discern between fact and interpretation.” This intellectual exercise extends beyond the classroom, moulding students into adept problem solvers and discerning decision-makers.

For instance, when students study historical documents and analyse primary sources, such as letters from Nigerian nationalists, they learn to question, analyse, and think critically. They also learn to differentiate between different historical interpretations, enabling them to form well-informed opinions.

Learning From The Past

History is replete with lessons that guide the present and shape the future. Dr. Emeka Okonkwo, a historian, underscores, “studying history helps students learn from the successes and mistakes of the past.”
This knowledge is not confined to history books but is applicable in navigating the complexities of the modern world.

For instance, when students delve into Nigeria’s journey to independence, they discover the strategies and sacrifices that led to freedom. They also learn from the mistakes made during the Nigerian Civil War, fostering a sense of responsibility to avoid repeating those errors.

Cultivating Empathy and Tolerance

History’s pages are filled with stories of people from diverse backgrounds. Dr. Funke Adeola, an educational psychologist, points out, “through the study of history, students develop empathy and tolerance.”
As they delve into the stories of individuals who faced oppression, students cultivate a deeper understanding of diverse experiences.

Suffice it to say that when students explore the stories of women such as Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti and Margaret Ekpo, who advocated for women’s rights and social justice, they learn to empathise with those who fought for equality and universal suffrage. They also discover the importance of tolerance in a diverse society.

Contemporary Relevance
History is not a relic of the past; it is a living testament to the present. Dr. Tunde Ojo, a social studies expert, notes, “the roots of contemporary challenges often lie deep within historical events.”
Understanding these historical origins equips students to engage with and address modern issues.

In other words, when students examine Nigeria’s colonial history, they gain insights into the origins of socio-economic disparities. This knowledge empowers them to advocate for social justice and equitable opportunities in today’s society.

Preservation of National Memory

History is the guardian of a nation’s memory. Dr. Zainab Oyewole, an archivist, states, “without history, we risk losing an integral part of our national identity.”
By making history a mandatory subject, we ensure that our rich and diverse history continues to shape our national consciousness.

For instance, students who study the history of Nigeria’s diverse ethnic groups, such as the Yoruba, Igbo, and Hausa/Fulani, gain a profound appreciation for the nation’s cultural heritage. They understand the importance of preserving languages and traditions.

An International Perspective
In an era of globalisation, history provides a global perspective. Dr. Segun Adeyemi, a geopolitical expert, affirms, “Understanding Nigeria’s role on the global stage and its interactions with other nations is indispensable for preparing students to be active participants in an interconnected world.”

When students explore Nigeria’s diplomatic history, they gain insights into the nation’s role in international events such as peacekeeping missions and diplomatic negotiations. This knowledge empowers them to engage with global issues effectively.

History is a living subject that offers invaluable lessons for the present and future. By making history compulsory in Nigerian schools, we are not only preserving our past but also nurturing a generation of critical thinkers and informed citizens who hold the keys to a brighter future.

As the world hurtles toward an uncertain future, our ability to understand and learn from the past will be our most invaluable asset.

Going further, I will urge the planners of the country education curriculum, and even encourage university administrators to make compulsory history as a subject that must be in students ‘O’ level, whether Science or Commercial or even Arts, before they can be offered admission.

And even possible it should be in the students JAMB combination when selecting their subjects. After all, before you graduate from school you must show yourself to have a profound knowledge of General Studies, which encompasses all disciplines.