Why history needs to come back to our school curricula

by Adedayo Ademuwagun

One of the resolutions of this year’s national conference is that the teaching of history should be mandatory in secondary schools to “sustain our historical heritage”. There’s been some discussion about this issue for some time now.

Presently, some students in senior secondary schools take history as an elective subject, but most students don’t. Many students don’t even know that history is one of the subjects on the curriculum.

It wasn’t like this before. Most of the students studying at secondary level in the 60s used to take history, even though it was British history. But as more subjects were introduced to the curriculum over time and the government began to put more emphasis on science, fewer students were registering for history. In 1960 after WAEC was established, 80% of the students who did the WASSCE did history. But by 1980, only 40% did the subject, and less than 5% do it today.

Students presently do some history in subjects like government, education, social studies and civic education. They learn details like the name of the first president, the date of independence and so on. But some historians think this is not enough to give the students a good grasp of Nigerian history.

Prof. Olayemi Akinwumi is the president of the Historical Society of Nigeria. He says, “Civic education, for instance, and history are two different things. It’s not possible to teach history as civic education. They’re different things. The students cannot learn enough about history in their civic education class. Those subjects are a bit of history and a bit of many other things. They’re not appropriate substitutes for history as a subject.”

Some students think that learning history would be boring and a waste of time. However, some others like the idea and say they’d be happy to have the opportunity to learn the subject.

Chinaza, SS2, says, “I’m not really happy that I don’t know about our history. I wish to learn, but there are no history teachers in my school. I didn’t even know that history is on the curriculum. I’d be happy to learn if I get the chance. It would let me understand the past and how we can learn from it. It will also help me in future. If I go somewhere and people are asking me something about our history, I’ll be able to answer.”

Princewill, SS1, says, “We learn some history briefly in social studies and civic education, but I don’t really know much or understand well. I think they should be teaching us history.

“My mother tells me stories about the olden days, Abacha and many other things. I think we should not only be learning about our history in school, our parents should also be teaching us. We need to be taught the things that happened in the past so that we can make today and the future better, and do things better as young people.”

Learning the history of a nation is not just about learning who was who in a certain time, but it’s also about learning what the people did and why it’s important in history. Many Nigerian students have learned in school about Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ahmadu Bello, Obafemi Awolowo and others. But they don’t know what these people really did and why it matters in Nigerian history. Funke says about Awolowo, for example, “I learned he’s one of the heroes of Nigeria, but I don’t know anything else about him.”

Learning the history of a nation is also not just about learning about the events that happened in the past, but it’s also about learning about the context in which the events happened, why the events are important in history and the lessons that can be learned from them.

It also entails an understanding of what a society looked like in the past eras and what life was like for people who lived in those eras. For instance, what was life like in this country during colonial rule and during military rule? What music did people listen to in the 80s? How did people get on in the 70s without mobile phones, internet and other contemporary technologies that they didn’t have at the time? Giving answers to such questions would give young people who are learning these things a clearer insight as to what the past looked like and what it was like to live through it.

Delegates from the Historical Society of Nigeria and the other delegates at the national conference were in agreement concerning this crusade for compulsory history education. However, it looks like some people are against it.

Akinwumi says, “I and other executives from our society met President Jonathan in March at the Villa in Abuja. We discussed with him about the need for compulsory history education in our schools, and he reasoned with us and directed the ministry of education to see about it. I remember he said history is the basis of all disciplines, that even in zoology you need to learn the history of zoology.

“After the meeting, later we got in touch with the Nigerian Educational Research and Development council (NERDC), and they confirmed that they had got a directive from the president. But up till now, they’ve not taken the steps to put history in the curriculum as mandatory.

“Even at the confab, all the delegates voted unanimously for the government to make the teaching of history mandatory in secondary school. So I don’t know why people are against it and why the process is being delayed. It’s strange to me.”

President Jonathan has assured that the government would implement the national conference report in due time. But will history be introduced in schools as a compulsory subject in the near future?

“I pray it would,” says Chinaza, “so I want to get to do the subject before I finish secondary in the next two years,”

Comments (0)

  1. It will be very important to nigerian to leaned history due it would allow them to know more about the past.present event and to plant to our future.i will like to give my advice as histosian, that the goverment and particularly ministry of education to approved this motion

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