Government ‘changing history’ welcomed … with some reservations

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Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga. Photo: Gallo Images / Sowetan / Veli Nhlapo /The Citizen

Political parties welcomed the reappointment of the ministerial task team that will “decolonise” the history curriculum to make it more afrocentric, but the DA had some reservations about its potential cost.

Yesterday, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga released a statement declaring that government was well on track to changing history.

This followed a recommendation in the MTT report released in December last year, that there was a need for a complete overhaul of the History Curriculum and Assessment Statement (Caps) from Grades 4 to 12.

This, the report said, was to ensure that the new history curriculum was “representative” and covered multiple perspectives.

Recently addressing a National Day of Reconciliation event, President Cyril Ramaphosa pointed out an example of varying perspectives on historical events in South Africa.

“We acknowledge that this day has in the past held different meanings for different South Africans,” he said. “To some, the Battle of Blood River – which took place exactly 180 years ago, in 1838 – was a triumph, and a confirmation of God’s special protection of the Voortrekkers.

“To others, the killing of over 3 000 Zulu warriors at Ncome represents a dark day when the native people of SA were brutally crushed and their land taken by the barrel of a gun.”

But the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) spokesperson on basic education, Nomsa Tarabella Marchesi, warned that government was unlikely to meet its own goals if it failed to properly fund the project.

Under the new terms of reference for the MTT, led by Professor Sifiso Ndlovu, the task team must develop a new history curriculum from Grade 4 to 12 by, among other things, conducting provincial consultation in the education sector.

Motshekga recently said her goal was to start piloting this curriculum in two years. But Tarabella Marchesi was concerned that the department had yet to present a costing analysis of the project, which she said could be costly.

“As the DA we basically welcome the idea of bringing in history, especially if it’s going to concentrate on African history,” she said. “But we have a problem with the fact there has been no costing analysis. Already you are going to need teachers that are going to have to be be trained and they should be teachers that are specifically teaching history.

“It shouldn’t have to be the way it is now where if you are a geography teacher you are automatically expected to be able to teach history and vice versa.”

United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa said it was a step in the right direction in terms of creating meaningful ties with the rest of the continent, which could improve relations.

“The positive note would be that, in Africa, we need to trade among ourselves. Because we have got all the resources, we can put Africa first as opposed to relying on imported goods. The first phase is going to rely on education so standardising education for the continent is a long term necessity,” said Holomisa.

He said this could benefit other African countries as well.

“We need to know the continent – cultures and so on – and human rights in other countries are taboo so there are gains which will be made.”

The Institute of Race Relations (IRR) warned of political agendas seeping into the curriculum.

Michael Morris, head of media at the IRR, said: “Curriculum reform is not automatically a bad thing, but one should always be deeply sceptical of what politicians think children should be taught, particularly about a history as complex as ours.

“The apartheid era, a low point in politically motivated miseducation, should alert us to the risks. Equally, in an increasingly globalised world, if ‘Afrocentrism’ and ‘relevance’ mean our children are deprived of the fullest awareness of the greater history of humanity, they will be worse off.

“All human history is relevant; what we need is imaginative curriculum design that avoids the pitfalls of parochialism, but enriches the imagination and knowledge of young South Africans.

“This points to the real priority challenge in education, which is not curriculum reform, but well-run schools, responsible, committed teachers capable of higher standards of teaching, and the much greater involvement of parents, who invest so much but are too often let down by an education system that fails them.”

Simnikiwe Hlatshaneni / The Citizen