Restoring history to the school curriculum

THE Federal Government has directed that history be restored as a stand-alone subject in schools. Since it was effectively expunged from the school curriculum in the 2009/2010 academic session, history has been studied as an adjunct to such subjects as literature in English and geography in senior secondary schools. And as would be expected, the effect of its removal as a core subject cascaded down to the universities where, currently, only a few have full-fledged history departments. The majority of the institutions have merged history with courses like diplomatic studies, strategic studies and so on. This is natural because it does not make much sense to continue to carry the cost of resourcing a department where there are little or no student enrolments. Perhaps, that abysmal situation fitted perfectly into the objectives of those who executed the policy, which was to ultimately phase out history as a subject and deprive young Nigerians of a robust sense of history and its attendant benefits.  The directive by the Federal Government is therefore worthy of commendation.

But pray, who even stopped the study of history as a stand-alone subject in the first place? Will it be out of place to name and shame such persons? Why were they afraid of history? Were they bad rulers who knew that history would be unkind to them? If not for any other thing, how do you foster patriotism without national history? The probing questions on the ill-thought-out policy that removed the study of history as a core subject are literally endless. Nonetheless, it is hoped that the restoration of the subject will enable it to regain its pride of place once again.  Perhaps it should be mentioned that the assault on the study of history did not start recently. It dated back to the 1969 National Curriculum Conference which culminated in the adoption of the National Policy on Education and subsequently the replacement of the former 6-5-4 system with the current 6-3-3-4 system of education. Since then, the study of history witnessed tacit but reduced emphasis in Nigerian schools before its eventual deletion as a stand-alone subject in 2007 and the ensuing implementation in the 2009/2010 academic year.

Ironically, the executor of this clearly defective policy might have meant well. But it is not sufficient to have a seemingly noble objective: the means at your disposal must be such that can contribute positively to the attainment of the desired end.  For instance, it has been argued that the government’s quest for human capital development and eradication of poverty actually led it to stop prioritising history as a core subject. But it is difficult to fathom how the study of history would vitiate a country’s pursuit of human capital improvement and drastic reduction of misery when, indeed, societies are built on the history of nations. It is axiomatic that the lessons of history can be quite invaluable in shaping society in the area of moral values, social cohesion, politics, culture and even the somewhat elusive national integration. Indeed, in addition to a sense of belonging and identity which the knowledge of history brings, societies tend to become better when their people avail themselves of the lessons of history which inspire them to improve on the greatness of the earlier periods or caution them to steer clear of the errors of the past.

Against this backdrop, it is hard to comprehend why the authorities chose to deprive the citizenry of the vast opportunities which the knowledge of history offers young Nigerians to make useful contributions to national development. Without doubt, the trend worldwide is to prioritise the study of science and technology and the outcome has evidently brought about improvement in human convenience and welfare. However, that cannot be sufficient justification for jettisoning or denying people access to other bodies of knowledge. After all, advances in science and technology themselves are in a sense built on the history of that sphere of knowledge.

Nigeria has always been blessed with national icons and heroes whose footprints in the country’s sociopolitical space remain indelible till date and indeed have continued to create nostalgia in the mind of those who were privileged to experience their purposeful and exemplary leadership. Why did the leadership imply that it was unimportant for young Nigerians to study the preserved narratives about such forbears as Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa and others? Did the authorities reckon with the monumental loss that such a wrong policy translated to in terms of the nationalistic spirit? Did they consider the patriotic zeal that lessons derived from such heroes could have inspired in young Nigerians?  Few years ago, the lack of a sense of history indeed manifested when those who ordinarily should know vehemently opposed the renaming of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) after Chief MKO Abiola, the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election whose electoral victory was voided by the then ruling military government.

Yes, the official U-turn on the stoppage of the study of history as a core subject  in schools is a welcome development, but if the relevant authorities had been more thorough and thought through the ramification of the consequences of their decision, what now amounts to a policy somersault would  have been avoided.  We urge the government to always endeavour to be more painstaking and pay more attention to detail while undertaking the tasks of national planning, policy formulation and prescriptions. Going back and forth on official policies whose expected outcomes are clear to even the average Nigerian ab initio portrays government as unserious or impulsive.