Shift in Education: Is Life Orientation History?

There is talk about something new shifting in the education system. What is it?  And how will it affect the curriculum and the way in which History is taught? Let’s take a look.

Wait, what was that about History?

Recently, the Department of Basic Education made an announcement stating that History would become a compulsory subject in 2023. There have been discussions in the past, specifically in 2015, where a team led by Professor Sibusiso Ndlovu discussed how to introduce History as a compulsory subject in further Education and Training Schools. A recommendation was made to keep Life Orientation as a compulsory subject until Grade 9. At which point, it could be replaced by History from Grade 10 onwards.

What about this new History curriculum?  It was suggested that the focus would be on the decolonization of the African mind. This includes an authentic representation of South Africa’s past, mainly regarding a raw and real understanding of the Apartheid era.

So, why the Delay?

The Department’s official order was to decide if it’s practical and possible to make History compulsory for learners, from Grade 10 to 12. As it currently stands, the subject is compulsory until Grade 9 and thereafter becomes an elective subject. The reason for the five-year gap is to allow the Department of Basic Education to fully prepare and train teachers.  Schools and Universities have both debated the way in which History is taught as well as what the curriculum should include and exclude.

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What does this shift mean for SA Learners?

The announcement of this curriculum change means that learners will have the opportunity to learn more about South African History. Some learners lack the knowledge and understanding of the reality of the Apartheid days. We live in a country that still dealing with struggles and hurt from the past. FACT: South Africa is still coming to terms with transformational change.

It is hard for many South African learners to fully understand and contextualise the struggles that our country faces on a daily basis. This change in curriculum has the potential to offer open minded conversations, that can help to facilitate analytical debates amongst students. This will help learners to fully comprehend the extent of our South African History.

Lessons from the Past Versus Life Lessons

Research has shown that learning about History can indeed have positive effects with regards to nation building, national pride, cultural heritage and patriotism. History also provides some form of identity as it goes back to a person’s roots. Unfortunately, many people don’t find value in learning about the history of certain countries, let alone learning about the culture and heritage of their own. 

On the other hand, most people consider Life Orientation to be a waste of time as there is a misconception regarding what the subject actually entails. The subject is actually the study of ‘self’ in relation to others and society. It addresses skills, knowledge and values about oneself, the environment, responsible citizenship, a healthy and productive life, social engagement, recreation and physical activity, careers and career choices. In actual fact, Life Orientation almost links arms with History as it encourages one to think for oneself and allows one to discuss as well as engage with different topics. Both subjects aim to mold the ways in which young people think; these subjects encourage learners to really dig deeper into the way they approach certain topics and situations.

So, why can’t History and Life Orientation be interchangeable? This seems like a viable option since these subjects compliment one another well. Both allow space for an individual to grow in their identity and establish, for themselves, a platform for various discussions.

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In the end, it entirely depends on the individual and what they believe. These subjects both allow for freedom in discussion and and the exploration of identity. Both subjects have a purpose to serve in schools but it is up to the individual to recognise this.  It is also a learner’s responsibility to get rid of any preconceived ideas regarding these subjects to make room for maximizing the benefit of learning. 

“To know who I am is a species of knowing where I stand. My identity is defined by the commitments and identifications which provide the frame or horizon within which I can try to determine from case to case what is good, or what I can endorse or oppose”

– Charles Taylor