27 March 2007

Botswana: Is History As a Discipline Dying a Natural Death?


History as a discipline is dying. Having been associated with the teaching of History for over a decade, I feel am better placed to write its obituary. As a discipline History is slowly being relegated into the background and fast drifting into oblivion. If current trends in our high schools are anything to go by the subject has no future in the school curriculum.

The state in which the subject finds itself in is not helped by, the fact that history is not a core. It is an option and its continued existence in the school curriculum depends on 'market forces'. The future of the subject lies in the ability of teachers of History to sell their 'product' to the learners. The place of the subject in the curriculum is not guaranteed. Bad news, I guess, for the likes of me who eke out a living through teaching History. In the face of the imminent demise of the subject, the prospect of waking up one morning and finding oneself jobless is looming. The sooner one furthers his education and diversifies sources of livelihood the better.

Currently History is receiving a cold reception from the learners. As an option, it is the least popular and least subscribed subject in almost all the schools. The modem and 'sophisticated' student describes History in all sorts of derogatory and demeaning terms. With the current crop of students only the present and the future matter. History is seen as an archaic, ancient and irrelevant study unconnected with moderm day realities and circumstances. This is an era of fast life and the moderm student, is forward -looking. The young generation does not have time and energy to invest in antiquities (the past). The subject is snubbed and shunned. This thing called fate works. Who would have thought that a subject that was once the darling of many students not so long ago, could experience this sudden change of fortunes? Amazing.

Consider this. Just over two decades ago, while I was at high school, History enjoyed a massive appeal. It was the most popular and the most sought after form of education. I see the old generation and my contemporaries agreeing with me on this one. I mean the subject was a must for every child and I think even parents yearned to see their children graduating as historians.

You know, one who had undergone history education was believed to be destined for greater things in life, bound to be a shaker and mover of the world, the sky was the limit. History was ranked second after law. In fact it was a stepping stone to a career in the legal profession. History was deemed to be the finest form of education befitting future royals, kings, and statesmen. Small wonder Sir Seretse Khama and Kenneth Koma had to study History. Those who were destined to rule were expected to possess charisma and refined public speaking skills. History equipped its recipients with such necessary skills.

Then History was a likeable subject. This was partly due to the intimate relationship between History and English language. By its very nature, History has a rich language. Students of history were deemed to be the best speakers of the Queen's language. Many people believed in the power of language. Speaking English language with a high degree of perfection was a trademark of Historians. Mastery of English was everything it elevated one's social status, respectability and prestige.

The pride and joy of every school, then, was the History Debating club. A History club was the life and blood of the subject. History debating sessions were crowd pullers attracting a large following (from both students of History and non- students of History). This is where students horned and fine tuned the art of public speaking. History was thought to be the home of intellectuals, rightly so. No student could resist the power and charm of History. Perhaps the most important reason why History was so popular was the teacher factor. The old generation of teachers was a rare kind of species. They were distinguished by a culture of excellence. Classroom delivery was magical and electrifying.

You know something out of this world. Remember these were the times when the lecture method was the norm. This was the most revered method of classroom delivery.

The teacher ran the show single-handedly and students were free passengers in the learning process. The teachers of History had the power to mesmerise and hypnotise the students. These teachers were full of energy. Stories are told of one teacher who when the lesson reached its climax, took his shirt out, threw it among the students and cried in the process. This drama triggered of emotional reactions from his students who equally could not hold down the tears. The spirit of history had taken the better of everyone in the class. This demonstrates the passion and love that the teachers had for the subject. History lessons were never a dull affair. Never short of drama. The teachers kept their children spell-bound throughout the duration of the lessons. Even when the siren rang signalling the end of a lesson, these teachers never ended a lesson abruptly. Never in a hurry to go, as they bowed out of the lesson, they continued to 'pour down' (ba tshologa) in the corridors. That was teaching at its best. That is what endeared these teachers so much to their students. Ngwana one a sa robale mo classing. Gompieno ba kgorotlha fela lesson e simolola.

A few examples of such teachers who were so gifted and charismatic were; Nkhwa - nicknamed Hero (late may his soul rest in peace)

Mosimanegape Mophuting - now school head at G.S.S.

Mr Odirile 'Twist' Gabasiane (I think they called him Bismarck) - now Managing Director of Ba Isago University College. All these were ex- Moeng College teachers. Keineetse Keinnetse was equally a very inspirational and entertaining teacher-he offered English literature.

Then Lotsane Senior School had Habangaan - now school head and Tshenyego (may his soul rest in peace.

The old generation of History teachers had a reputation of producing good results. Then History was synonymous with excellence. Sadly the good old days are gone.

History no longer commands the respect it had. Is it because the new generation of teachers is failing to live to expectations?

The issue will be addressed in subsequent articles. The next installment of the article will focus on why the subject has lost appeal and whether there is a chance of regaining its past glory.

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