Bringing History to the fore

A compulsory pass in History is an interesting move which needs some prerequisites to work well.

A CLEAR indication that requiring a compulsory pass in History for the SPM examinations has political connotations is that the decision was announced by the Deputy Prime Minister at the Umno general assembly and that it was roundly endorsed by a number of delegates.

The support of the delegates was centred on the belief that its proper teaching will ensure that students understand well the history of the country, including the basis for the Federal Constitution, the events leading up to the formation of Malaysia and the aspirations of the people.

At first glance, that would not pose a problem, for who can argue about the benefits of teaching all those things to students and ensuring that they have a good appreciation of the history of the country.

The problem is that there is a lot of controversy and disagreement about these things, something which is made even more perplexing by a social contract that all manner of politicians refer to but which no one has seen because it does not exist in written form.

History – if it can be agreed upon – should be agreed upon through a fair and true assessment of facts and clues by professionals in the field.

They include historians, archivists, archaeologists and others.

Politicians may have a place in history but they must have no say in what goes into history.

So, even before teaching history, we need to establish what exactly is our history as unambiguously and as thoroughly as possible, distinguishing facts, analyses, opinions, theories, hypotheses and plain conjecture.

And there is a need to highlight the contentious issues so that students of history, young and old and somewhere in between, know which are the points of disagreement that cannot be adequately resolved.

By all means, make history a compulsory pass for SPM but also ensure that it does the desired good.

It must paint an accurate picture of history, untainted by politics and politicians.

Well-regarded and qualified professionals of all backgrounds must determine the facts and provide the analyses and arguments.

We should inject some reasoned thinking into students so that they have an appreciation of the real-life difficulties of interpreting historical events accurately and the cases where disagreements are actually subjective and do not lend themselves to an easy, formulaic solution.

If students are taught constitutional history, they should also be taught what their rights are under the Federal Constitution and their obligations as members of a civil society and the avenues that are open to them to defend their civil rights.

That will help to make constitutional history a living, relevant subject for them which they can use in their everyday lives and become better citizens as a result.

To have a truly global view and the history lessons that have shaped the world, it would be necessary to equip our students with these too instead of confining their knowledge to just Malaysia, which while useful is rather restrictive.

The current history syllabus is rather too narrow and does not give our children the grasp of world history that many of us older people have.

World history need not be exhaustive but should have sufficient depth to give some understanding of how the world has changed over the centuries and what caused those changes.

That way, history will truly become a living, interesting subject that our students will become automatically interested in and that way, too, we can avoid our students becoming automatons who blithely accept everything thrown at them without question.

>by Managing editor P. Gunasegaram, who believes that there is great opportunity to raise the standard of thinking of our students through the enlightened teaching of history in schools. Politicians keep out!

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