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Accord history some space in Kenya's curriculum

OPINION
By COLLINS MUSANGA | October 11th 2016

Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development Director Julius Jwan is on record saying the curriculum reform being effected by Government will design the History curriculum to help impart civic values in the learners. This could be the defining feature of the proposed curriculum.

The school curriculum as it is now is inordinately focused on development of the mind without regard to helping the students understand certain fundamental issues that underlie organised society.

Policy pronouncements and even remarks by employers have been all about skills. We have seen less of imparting a sense of responsibility and patriotism in learners. A sound education system should not just look at children, at learners as potential human resources capital to feed the needs of the economy.

It should be as much concerned with how well that education develops a strong spirit of citizenship. Knowledge of history, more than any discipline, is a precondition for political intelligence. Society shares its collective memory through history.

The past one decade has witnessed persistent clamour to elevate science subjects over art subjects, yet history is the foundation upon which values and ethics in a society are built.

Students can best appreciate and imbibe the values of patriotism, greatness, high thinking, and also the principles that build and jell society together when they learn how other societies have grappled with the challenges.

Students should also study the histories of other continents besides Africa. A study of the US history or even that of England has ample examples of the way the two nations have grappled with the tension between freedom and order, the rule of law and other challenges.

In that history, we can also see the way they dealt with policy problems that the nations dealt with and crucially, the institutions they set up to deal with them.

Unfortunately, the framers of the current syllabus on History appear to have tilted more towards Political Science and Government, which focuses more on institutions society has set up to manage its affairs.

It is less about the cauldron that defines the relations between the competing interests, and how one group of people or powerful people seize or attempt to seize the instruments of the state for their own interests or to advance a good that they think is not properly served. What we need to do is expose students to problems, conflicts and opinion and decisions made to address those problems or challenges policy actions, legislations, and institutional changes made to address or to adjust to changing circumstances and demands on institutions.

With appropriate teaching methods, the students can appreciate the things adults deal with beyond their classrooms.

English Historian Thomas Carlyle argued that history of the world is but the biography of great men. This thesis may not be entirely correct. However, we cannot study history without interacting with some of the men and women who happened to be in the arena of historical events under study controlling or being controlled by the events.

I am thinking of William Gladstone who brought reforms in education and politics, extending universal suffrage as well as access to education in England. I am thinking about the great French and German political leaders, who after the Second World War rebuild the two nations, a venture that ultimately created the European Union, which ensured peace and stability in Europea since the Second World War.

I am thinking about the founding fathers of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and those who came later to fortify state institutions to deal with changing circumstances. Jomo Kenyatta, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and others in Kenya; Milton Obote, and others and Mwalimu Julius Nyerere and others.

It is not enough to have experts in science, mathematics, engineering and technology. Those experts need to appreciate the human dimension of the problems whose solutions they provide.

In addition, institutions and governments need men and women with the perspective that history and social science and the humanities engender in learners. It is dangerous to have a man or woman who studied hard sciences but never studied History in Form 2. They cannot appreciate the human dimension of the malaises that institutions grapple with.

Therefore, a careful structuring of the syllabus will expose students to the strife that inescapably faces nations: the factors that engender it, and how societies resolved them through whatever means available. Whatever the means, students must be made to see the enduring values that ought to be safeguarded.

These values are order and freedom, stability and change. They all contribute to the safety and well-being of the people.

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