History teaching in schools as tool for national development

PHOTO: imeela.com

For almost a decade, the Federal Government has stopped the teaching of history in primary and secondary schools and the consequence is apparent. With the latest pronouncement by the government to reintroduce the subject, adequate plans are required before the re-launch. Head,
Education Desk, Iyabo Lawal reports.

Hello children!” “Hello Aunty!” the children replied in excitement, monkeying around the amusement park, in multi coloured attire. It was a public holiday – Democracy Day; May 29, 2016. “Are you happy to be here?” the young lady asked them. Like enraptured set of red-headed lizards, they nodded vigorously in the affirmative.

“Do you know why there is a public holiday today?” she probed further. “To have fun,” the children chorused without thinking. The lady smiled, not ready to accept their ignorance.

“Ok. Let me ask you a question. Anyone who gets it right gets a pack of Indomie noodles,” she said pointing to a carton on a table. “Who is Obafemi Awolowo?”

“He’s a footballer!” many of them said. “Wrong, that’s Obafemi Martins,” she corrected them. The school children were asked more questions on Nigeria’s historical personalities and events but the children were far from getting one right. Their voices fizzled out in disappointment as none of them could win the coveted prize.

They know Innocent Idibia (a.k.a Tuface); David Adeleke (a.k.a Davido), Tiwa Savage; Olamide and other hip hop singers. They even know (Diego) Maradona very well, but they do not know Herbert Macaulay; Tafawa Balewa; Nnamdi Azikiwe; Awolowo; Sir Ahmadu Bello; Moshood Abiola; or Wole Soyinka.

Their beautiful eyes see no further than what the society and classrooms have fed them with – junk and fleeting history.

Little wonder, it would be cheering news to some when the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, 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 are that students are shunning it, as there were few jobs for history graduates, and that there is dearth of history teachers.

To date, Nigeria has no official account of the 1967 to 1970 civil war.

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

Adamu 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.

“I believe this government is going to return history to the curriculum.”

At the 2014 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.

Like the children mentioned at the outset, what personal affiliation can they have with their country without proper history being taught in the classroom? 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 note that “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, the 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 school curriculum. Samuel Johnson, who later wrote the history of the Yoruba, was not pleased with only history of England, Rome and Greece being taught. Buoyed by a sense of history, he wrote the seminal work on Yoruba history.

As undesirable 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 (University of London from 1887; Cambridge University from 1910 and Oxford University from 1929).

Examination questions were aimed to examine 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.
For example, the University of London Matriculation Examinations for January 1890 had the following questions: “Was Mary Queen of Scots justly or unjustly put to death? Give reasons for your opinion. What were the questions at issue between Charles I and his people which brought on the Civil War of 1642 to1647?”

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 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, the subject 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.

“However, the course of the teaching of history was to be adversely affected by the events which followed the convening of the 1969 National Curriculum Conference, followed 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?

The late Prof. Ade Ajayi in one of his tributes to Kenneth

Can the government make history attractive again to its teeming student population? Are there adequate curriculum and plans for qualified teachers to take up the challenge of teaching history? Only time will tell.


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