"Great to know where you come from but no idea where you're going" – readers respond to replacing Life Orientation with History

Our we really doing the right thing for our kids by scrapping Life Orientation?
Our we really doing the right thing for our kids by scrapping Life Orientation?

On Thursday 31 May, the Department of Basic Education announced that, by 2023 (in 5 years' time), schools will no longer have Life Orientation as a compulsory subject for students from Grades 10 to 12 and instead, all learners will have to take History as a subject.

Minster of Basic Education Angie Motshekga said the curriculum will be taught from an African perspective. “History should, by design, enable learners to be active citizens – including being able to engage critically with the truths of colonialism, apartheid, and the liberation struggle," she said. And she believes the History Ministerial Task Team (MTT) she put in place, will do just that. 

We asked our readers whether they believed it was the right decision. While some agree that History is important, particularly in empowering citizens, perhaps it isn’t as simple as a curriculum change. Here’s what they had to say:

"Don’t take Life Orientation away: Life skills are a basic necessity"

Kathryn, who's tutored both History and Life Orientation wrote to us:

"History has always been my favourite subject. I believe it is important to know where we came from, how we got here and how to ensure a brighter future. History teaches objectiveness – a valuable life lesson and it challenges us to open our minds, understanding the sides of the oppressed and oppressors."

But, she continues, Life Orientation is equally important, if not more so:

"LO is a vital subject when taught correctly. HIV/Aids, STDS/STIs, rape, abuse, safe sex, teenage pregnancy, community service, environmental awareness, job shadowing – and now all of this is to be done away with? LO should be an open, informative and welcoming space for students from all walks of life to ask questions freely and be heard.

So I love the idea of History being compulsory, but I seriously wonder about how children will be taught these valuable life lessons in future."

“It will open doors for African youth”

One reader wrote in anonymously, saying he fully understands what the Department of Basic Education is saying about empowering students. This is his letter:

"It is important to teach History from an African context. In fact, it should go far back to pre-colonial and pre-historical eras. This is very important for a black child. The colonial era is also important since it is a period when African empires of the ancient were disintegrating and declining. This can teach us about being politically, socially and economically organised because we will get a glimpse of the mistakes that caused a decline in power of our ancestors, the mistakes they made which led to political decline as well as the diaspora pre- and post-European invasion of 323 BC.

"It is important to let young generations know that Africa had full-fledged empires prior to western civilisation. Just as much as having former President Nelson Mandela as a first black face that inspired black youth for greatness. Most black historical figures who performed wonders need to be brought to attention so that a black child can move from their programmed state of mind into that innovative mind inspired by knowledge of black inventors that modern-day history does not bring to light.

"But for now the focus is a black child whose history of greatness has been suppressed for many generations. This was a barrier for them and they couldn’t develop innovative thoughts and consciousness.

"When I enrolled at the University of South Africa for Ancient History and discovered this information I realised that I have a lot to research to move beyond the colonial scope. Since then my perspective about the world has been different and my self-esteem has gone up. I am pretty sure the results can be amazing if we do so as a collective.

"Other nations also built their identities from such a background of knowledge. The self-esteem of a child is not based on the knowledge of one’s family history but one’s racial history. Meaning most of us black kids often make it out as the first in the family to do many things, but we barely go beyond our racial history because he have no full knowledge of our history and the cause of effect of the diaspora. A child’s confidence is 100% based on what they know or don’t know about their racial history so this will open up doors for many African youth."

"Hopefully we will start to eradicate hooliganism"

Oarabile hopes that introducing History as a compulsory subject will encourage patriotism and "eradicate hooliganism that has engulfed our country with heists, killing of women, children, hijacking, violent demonstration, trashing of public properties" because "clearly Life Orientation has been failing us". He says, "It's about time we bring back religion and some firm discipline in schools and the justice system."

"It's good move, but teach History from a neutral perspective"

T Hadad wrote in:

"As an educator, I welcome this move to a point. LO is important – it's not being done away with. History is incredibly important, however not from an 'African' perspective, but a neutral one.
"I am wary of the MEC's comments on 'colonialism'. We cannot run the risk of politically motivated ideas hidden behind teaching history. Learners must be taught skills that allow them to see through 'hype', not just accept history from a 'victor' or 'victim' perspective."

"History is content-heavy and a burden for the less able, unless properly taught"

Anneza also wrote in, raising a few concerns but also offering a solution:

"It seems that if History replaces Life Orientation, then all matric learners will do seven academic subjects. This is a heavy burden for the less able. It was almost impossible to fail LO, so there was more time available to study other, more reputable subjects. History is content-heavy and involves steady work, which is not a bad thing, if it is properly taught. That means that the current successful schools will be able to offer it properly and the less successful schools will fall further behind.

"One 'solution' is to lower standards. But I hope this does not happen.

"Teachers will need to be retrained on a huge scale. What arrangements are being made for this?

"International history is an excellent idea, but African history can be contentious: some African-Americans found it necessary to claim that the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt 'must have been' Black, which did their cause no good at all. I do not expect that from South Africans; however, African history is also the history of colonialism and missionary activity, and the last is contentious. Timbuktu was a centre of learning for centuries, distinguished by its achievements in astronomy as well as Islamic theology. Recently, Islamic fundamentalists set about vandalising its buildings and the priceless written records in the interests of their own sectarian beliefs. Clearly, unless this topic is extremely well taught, it can be dynamite. Will it be? Or might it be conveniently omitted?  

"Assuming that the curriculum is wisely compiled and the teachers properly prepared, there will still be a need for the education authorities to check up on all schools to ensure that the History classes include more than just memorising the textbook – (Who is going to write it? Will there be more than one choice? How many of our official languages will they appear in?) – which is what History was under the apartheid government. For that reason, and because of its propagandist content, I chose to drop History and do German for Matric; I went on to study History at university and loved it. Would that still be possible?

"Some learners will wish to study, say, Art, Music, Additional Mathematics etc – what subject can they drop? If History is genuinely compulsory, then presumably it would have to be one of the others, correct?

"The only way I can see this working – luckily, it is also the way to improve school teaching and learning across the board – is to reintroduce a well-trained, well-paid and dedicated inspectorate who will actually go into schools, sit in on lessons, check teachers’ records and learners’ work and take action to help all concerned to improve. The teachers’ unions are, shortsightedly, opposed to this at present, but this need not be an insuperable difficulty."

"History is important but learning it up to Grade 9 is sufficient"

Sharita agrees, saying, "First let's get teachers who are passionate about teaching History trained, before we even talk about this subject."

She continues,

"History isn't a subject every young person is interested in. We will have more people battling to pass matric while studying for a subject that isn't going to help them at university. History is important but I believe, History up to Grade 9 as it currently is, is sufficient. Education and politics should never be mixed. We need people who are serious about education and our children, to make these types of decisions."

"There will be many disagreements and learners will have to be encouraged to engage in debates"

Andrew Duminy wrote in saying History is important, and from every perspective:

"History should be studied in schools because all young people should know about what happened in our past, the good things as well as the bad ones. While an African perspective is important, they should also know about the ideas and practices of other parts of the world, especially Europe, which has influenced and continues to influence us.
"The study of South African history is riddled with disagreements, not only because the 'facts' can be disputed, but because present-day politics make some topics extremely contentious. 
"If the study of History in schools is to play a role in promoting critical thinking, learners will have to be encouraged to confront these disagreements and to engage in debates about them."

Andrew also touches on the fact that we need well-trained teachers in order to achieve this goal.

"It may however be doubted whether we, who have a schooling system which shows evidence of serious under-performance, will be able to rise to this challenge. The danger is therefore that History will be be taught as another dull subject in which learners are required to provide 'the right answers' and so will serve no educational purpose whatsoever."

"But about a subject called Future? A roadmap to the most confusing time in your life"

Tanya Joubert comments,

"What about, instead of a subject called 'history', we introduce a subject called 'future'. Future deals with giving students tools and resources to begin to map out their plans for their lives – in detail. Not just what you want to study after school, but what to do if it fails. Including things like personality and aptitude tests, taking into account students who really work best with their hands, creatively or interpersonally (not just academics).
"Connect students to the institutions, to sponsors, information on student loans and repayment. A look at different worldviews, like African, Western and Asian. Religions. Some history maybe. But all for the purpose of building up someone who is better equipped to leave school. A practical, hopeful roadmap for the most confusing time of your life."

*Letters have been edited for length and clarity.

Do you agree with the Department of Basic Education's decision? Do you think they're making the right decision by getting rid of Life Orientation as a compulsory subject? And how do you feel about them making History compulsory? Do you think it will better inform students and make them active citizens? Send us your comments to chatback@parent24.com and we may publish them on the site. Do let us know if you'd like to remain anonymous.

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