01/06/2018 03:32 BST | Updated 01/06/2018 03:58 BST

Compulsory History Classes: Who Decides What We Learn And What We Forget?

Historians warn that all sectors of society need to be represented if we are to present a true reflection of our past to the next generation.

South Africa's history is subjective, and depending on who you ask, different versions of the country's past may be presented — this is one of the many issues the department of basic education will have to confront, if it is to successfully implement history as a compulsory subject in secondary schools.

The History Ministerial Task Team (MTT), appointed by Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga in 2015, undertook a comparative case study on compulsory history in 13 countries, and concluded that the subject should be made a fundamental aspect of the curriculum rolled out incrementally in schools from 2023.

After almost three years, the team's report was released on Thursday.

READ: Minister's Team Recommends History Be Made Compulsory In Schools

But historians have warned that South Africa's history is too complex for a linear approach to the curriculum, and all sectors of the population must be fairly represented to allow for an accurate depiction of the country's past to be taught.

The team recommended that history be introduced as a compulsory subject between Grades 10 and 12, replacing life orientation, which they say should remain compulsory only until Grade 9. It suggested that the process be phased in incrementally between 2023 and 2025. Matric learners will also be expected to write an additional two final-year examination papers: Paper 1 focusing on African history, and Paper 2 focusing on international history.

But there are a few challenges.

The team warned that all contextual factors and concerns specific to South Africa would have to be carefully considered, namely: challenges surrounding capacity, teacher development and training, content, and budgetary implications.

They then slammed the current Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (Caps) model, saying it does not define South Africa's history to the full extent.

"While Caps achieved the primary goal of lightening the administrative and content load of the curriculum, there was a marked depletion and fragmentation of credible content, concepts and methods which are foundational to African history...[Caps] tackles the study of 'precolonial' Africa superficially in the early phases of schooling," the report states.

"This means that more than 100,000 years of human biological, social and cultural history that unfolded on the African continent are marginal to the curriculum and dealt with in the lower grades, resulting in a curriculum that fails to treat Africa adequately as a continent with a rich past."

The report recommends a total overhaul of the Caps curriculum and an extensive programme for training new history teachers.

But who decides what they will teach? Historians are also at odds on how to effectively construct a syllabus that represents the past without bias or omission.

University of KwaZulu-Natal history lecturer Maserole Kgari-Masondo said the Constitution should dictate how South African history is taught.

"The Constitution describes whose history we must teach, and that is the history of everyone in South Africa. It cannot only be African history, it must be the history of all races. This is central to building racial tolerance, bridging the gap in racial diversity, and for nation-building. We must learn about the history of the people we engage with," she said.

"The African history we learnt was biased. We did not gather African awareness and knowledge from critical thinkers. You don't see women represented well enough in our history. Even in our power couples of the past, the emphasis is on the man. We need a holistic approach to history."

Kgari-Masondo said it will be difficult to decide what is historically significant and what is not.

"Who and what do we regard as important? Someone who you may find influential in our history, I may not. Then there is the question of balancing this with international history because of our colonial past. We are now in a mixed, global society, so we must understand global history and its effects in South Africa."

Author and history expert Hermann Giliomee said a committee representative of all sectors in South African society needs to be established.

"How do you deal with history under the Boer republics and the National Party rule? When I first met the ANC leaders in the 1980s, Thabo Mbeki and I had a debate on how we should tell the story of our history. You need to get a committee of historians with different backgrounds and views together. If you leave it solely up to the [governing] party, it will be counterproductive and biased," he said.

"I am sceptical about the whole exercise. It must be fully representative."