Scholars, lawyers, students, call for reinstatement of History study in our school syllabus
By Sam Otti
History died in 2014 when it was expunged from the list of required school subjects by the Nigerian education curriculum planners and replaced with Civic Education and Social Studies, at junior secondary level and, Government, at senior level.
But since then its ghost, havig refused to be buried and forgotten, has continued to haunt the living. Worried that their children may be left floating on the shallow waters of our national history, ancient and modern, concerned parents continue to wage relentless battle to have the decision upturned.
They demand an immediate return of the axed subject and plead with government to make it compulsory in secondary schools. Their reason is hinged on the immortal words of a Spanish Philosopher, George Santayana, that “those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”
Prof. A.A. Adeyinka, of Educational Foundations, University of Ilorin, Kwara State, carried out an empirical research on “The place of History in the Nigerian Secondary Grammar School Curriculum.” In it, he examined the position of History among 12 secondary school subjects and the reasons History was placed in particular position. During the research he conducted among 965 senior secondary 3 (SS 3) students (497 boys and 468 girls) from 42 secondary grammar schools in Nigeria, the students-respondents were asked to rank 12 Basic General Education (BGE) subjects in order of their importance and relevance to their future careers. History was ranked 9th on the list. He tried to find out why and discovered that the students’ reasons for ranking History relatively lower than many other BGE (Basic General Education) subjects was that specialisation in it does not necessarily guarantee prospects for attractive careers in public service or encourage self-employment which is one of the major objectives of the new National Policy on Education.
Despite this finding and a few other reasons provided by curriculum planners to justify the scrapping of the subject, a member of the Historical Society of Nigeria (HSN), Onaolapo Foluso Anna, as well as the Head, Department of History, Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education (AOCOED), Otto-Ijanikin, Lagos State, strongly believes that education policymakers acted in error by de-listing the subject from secondary school syllabus.
“History should not be touched at all at the secondary school level,” she pleaded. “There is no White Paper from the government yet that History should not be taught in secondary schools. During the late 90s, I taught History in several secondary schools. If you go to Federal Government Colleges, you will find out that History is there. It is still a subject offered in WAEC. Even in some secondary schools, they still teach History. But the fact remains that lesser number of students register for the subject in their SSCE. The low enrolment should not be a reason to phase out the subject. Rather it should be made compulsory for students.”
She added that most students, driven by the phobia that History is vast and difficult to pass, chose Government instead in the Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE). Onaolapo further explained that the 40/60 per cent admission policy that favours science-related courses also contribute to students’ declining interest in the study of History as a subject in tertiary institutions.
“We should know our background. It is History that will tell you your root. If you don’t know your past, how can you proffer solutions to present challenges?”, she wondered.
The Chairman, College of Education Association Staff Union (COEASU), Federal College of Education, Eha-Amufu, Enugu State, Dr Ikechukwu C. Agbo, share the same view with Onaolapo. He described History as a helpful subject in schools which exposes students to historical records that could enrich their learning.
When this reporter argued that offering History along with Civic Education, Social Studies and Government, could mean duplication of efforts in schools, he explained that the aforementioned subjects got their schemes from History.
“History is more embracing than Civic Education, Social Studies and Government. If they want to go back to the old curriculum, they should merge these subjects and call it History for both Junior and Senior Secondary Schools,” he explained.
Agbo could be spot-on, with regard to his observation. An investigation conducted by Education Review, in the course of putting together this story, shows some deficiences in the facts and knowledge being offered by recommended textbooks on Civic Education, as they relate to our national history.
Take for instance, this discovery from Fundamentals Civic Education for Junior Secondary Schools and Colleges Basic 7,8,9, written by Ajao S.T.(Mrs), a Political Science graduate from University of Ado Ekiti, Ekiti State. A compulsory textbook, with Universal Basic Education (UBE) edition, for all students in junior secondary school level in Nigeria, in one of her sub-topics, “Brief History About Nigeria”, she wrote about Lord Lugard, about Flora Shaw, the British journalist and mistress of Lord Lugard who was said to have composed the first Nigerian national anthem “Nigeria, We Hail Thee” as well as coined the name, Nigeria, to cement the amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates in 1914.
“Nigeria gained political independence in 1960, and became a republican state in 1963,” the author noted in the book, before delving into the issue of 400 ethnic groups or so that make up the country. But throughout her so-called “brief history,” she never mentioned anything about nationalists like Herbert Macauley, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (Nigeria’s first President), Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (Nigeria’s first Prime Minister), Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Chief Anthony Enahoro.
The problem that this omission poses is that a student who is not offering Government as a subject may never get to learn or know our national history all his or her life.
It is this fact, perhaps, that prompted Damilola Atota, a 200 level student of Early Childhood Care Education, AOCOED, to passionately appeal to government to reverse the decision without further delay.
“The removal of History from the curriculum is not a wise idea. It will deprive the students the knowledge of the past,” he said. “We need to encourage the younger generation to understand the traditions, development and landmarks of the past. Some people studying History in colleges of education with the hope of becoming History teachers would be seriously affected.”
“There is no assurance that we will get a job after graduation,” Adewale Ismaila, a 200 level student reading History Education in the same college, lamented. “There is no other subject I can teach like History. But I can take other related subjects like Government or Civic Education. I have not been trained to teach Government but I can take it up in the absence of History.”
He attributed this development as the reason for the low enrolment of students in the Department of History Education. According to him, while other departments have over 100 students, his department has only 18 second-year students.
Ikechukwu Onodi, a concerned parent and a lawyer based in FESTAC, Lagos, said that de-listing History as a subject has created a knowledge gap in the nation’s education system. He noted that youngsters would remain ignorant of the roles played by the nation’s founding fathers if discouraged from reading about these past heroes.
From the Diaspora comes a strong voice demanding the immediate reversal of the policy. Tope Fajingbesi Balogun, Founder, United for Kid Foundation, described as shameful the Nigerian school curriculum planners’ decision to phase out History as a subject of study in secondary schools.
“We can never move forward by ignoring the past,” she observed. “What we need to do is to teach our history in a very objective and unbiased manner, not phase it out.”
Pat Anyadubalu, a legal practitioner, who is also the founder of education based non-governmental organisation (NGO), Back-to-School Foundation, noted that the Federal Government has not adduced convincing reason why it took the decision. He explained that it would amount to intellectual blindness to abolish History as a subject of study when other subjects like Chemistry, Physics, Economics and Law have their history.
“Laws are made based on the historical and sociological background of the people”, he argued. “Education, being in the concurrent legislative list, states are not bound by such policy of abolition of History as a subject in secondary school unless such states decide to adopt such policy. The decision to abolish the teaching of history in our secondary school is uncalled for, obnoxious, therefore should be rescinded.”