Defining History as a School Subject



History curriculum documents for schools often contain a statement providing a description or definition of the nature of the subject. Recent developments in South Africa draw attention to the need to provide a justification for the vision and purpose of History as a school subject.


History lessons and “Nation Building”

In response to calls[1] made earlier in 2015 for History to be a compulsory subject[2] in South African schools and for the history curriculum to be “strengthened,” the Minister of Basic Education appointed a Task team[3] to investigate and research the matter and held a “round table” consultation with interested groups in December 2015. In her own words, she supported the intervention on the grounds that, “[m]edia reports indicated that many of those who participated in the looting, violence and vandalism (during… xenophobic attacks) were youths … we need to equip our youth with an accurate account of our history in order for them to make educated decisions regarding their own future.”[4] Her spokesperson maintained that the curriculum change was aimed to contribute to nation building.[5] Arising from these discussions is the question of what constitutes History as a school subject and how and where it is defined.