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Mostly, the perceptions of history educators in black secondary schools toward their subject during the democratic era in South Africa have been negative. There are many reasons which account for this perception.
Iain Smith provides a picture of the state of history education in black secondary schools at the time of South Africa’s transition to democracy. The perceptions of educators and learners alike toward history education were driven by the idea that it could be a useful tool toward attaining success in examinations. Smith notes that at ‘… secondary school, students are subjected to an authoritarian ‘top-down’ tradition of teaching by the teachers, often themselves poorly educated, who know that the emphasis in black schools is not on education, but on trying to pass examinations’.1
Sarah Dryden’s 1999 dissertation on the perceptions of Cape Town learners and educators toward history education included a survey of black secondary schools.2 The history educators questioned by Dryden all felt that history education had a redemptive, moral role to play in helping learners to cope with life in post-apartheid South Africa. Educators saw the value of history education in building up the confidence of children damaged by a violent and troubled society. ‘…We’ll have to try and build up their future. We’ll have to try and build up confidence in these children, teach them not to give up.
Educators considered it important that learners knew their roots, and history education was seen as a way to give students hope for the future. Given the often desperate socio-economic situation of the learners Dryden surveyed, many educators felt that it was not so much what the learners were learning at school that was so important, but rather that they were at school at all.
While these stated perceptions of history educators toward their subject are noble, the disconcerting fact mentioned by Dryden is that these educators seldom bothered to turn up to classes to teach the subject which they so enthused about. Dryden notes that out of 36 classes which occupied a 16-day period, educators were present at only four.5
In any event, Dryden cites examples to show that at many occasions when educators were present in class, very little substantive history teaching took place. These unfortunate statistics may in fact reveal the true perceptions which history educators in Dryden’s surveyed black secondary schools in Cape Town held about their subject.
Sadly, statistics concerning the perceptions of black secondary school educators (or indeed learners) toward school history education which pertain to South Africa’s democratic era are hard to find. This lack of data and research in this area was confirmed by the helpful assistance of Rob Siebörger of the University of Cape Town. When asked about recent research into the perceptions of secondary school educators or learners, he said: ‘There’s very little that I know of … Have you looked at the links on my webpage, specifically Sarah Dryden’s work, though a bit old now?
Since secondary source data concerning the perceptions of educators and learners toward secondary school history education was scanty, most of the information presented in Chapter 6 and 7 derived from the primary research which I conducted during 2008.

Negative educator perceptions

Research conducted among black secondary school history educators in the Nkangala region of Mpumalanga in 2008 (nine years after Dryden’s study) largely captured Dryden’s findings. Several negative perceptions about history education are held by educators. These perceptions are amplified by responses obtained from respondents who had completed the UNISA Short Course in School History Enrichment between 2006 and 2008. According to these findings, many educators were confused by the new GET and FET systems of education. The NCS syllabus and methodology perplexed many educators. Educators complained that they did not receive enough training and support from the Department of Education when it came to implementing GET and FET history. The main complaint which educators had about the GET social science curriculum was that history and geography education did not work well together. Many educators felt that the FET history syllabus was ideologically biased. History educators whom I had surveyed also reflected feeling vulnerable to the perceived higher claims of scientific, commercial and technological subjects or learning areas and also felt insecure about the perceived bias of the Education Department and local school management against history education. Educators further felt that conducting history education within communities and schools which were poor was difficult.
Surveyed Nkangala educators are confused and at times bewildered by the frequency of change in the school educational system over recent years. This applies to some degree to all FET subjects. Syllabi have changed frequently. Methods of implementation have also changed, at times more than once a year. This has negatively affected the perceptions which history educators hold toward their subject.
Many educators hold the perception that the instructions which arrive from the Department of Education are at times vague, or never arrive at all. Different officials appear to have different interpretations of how administration and educating are to be practically carried out. This has demoralised educators and has not contributed toward a positive perception of their subjects.
The lack of guidance from the Department of Education is reflected in the overwhelming response received from educators who had completed the UNISA Short Course in School History Enrichment which indicated that they were not receiving support from the Department of Education when it came to understanding the new NCS history education. Every respondent noted that there had been inadequacies in their understanding of the functioning of the new system. Four specifically noted that they had received no or little guidance from the Department of Education concerning the new system. This was in fact why many of these students had registered for this course in the first place. In the Short Course return form, all of the respondents reported having enrolled for the course to help themselves understand the new NCS approach to history which strongly implies that not enough training had been provided by the Department of Education. Respondents all reported that they had not been trained in how to understand and apply Assessment Standards and Learning Outcomes.7 Three respondents related that they had not known how to put together a lesson plan.8 A general lack of understanding of the new NCS curriculum was reported by Short Course respondents, who related that little NCS training had been undertaken by the Department of Education.9 Another respondent felt that before undertaking the Short Course he had not known enough about the rubrics, matrix and grids which accompany the NCS.
In her research paper presented at the South African Society for History Teaching Conference held in 2007, Bertram suggested that ‘what counts as history’ in South African secondary schools had changed. She posited that the ‘legitimate text’ for history was ‘now an ability to interpret and analyse sources and not to remember a number of facts’.11 Some educators had long been implementing the new history approach, while others had not and so are faced by the demands of a ‘new’ approach. Three KwaZulu-Natal secondary schools were surveyed in order to determine to what extent the ‘new history’, in terms of the assessment tasks which were being set for learners was being implemented. In findings which echoed those uncovered by my own study, it was established that the assessment tasks which were set for learners at the surveyed black secondary school revealed a significant lack of understanding of new assessment techniques.
This may indicate that the lack of knowledge apparent among the black secondary school educators surveyed for my own study may be widespread.
That most black secondary school history educators in Mpumalanga struggle with the NCS approach to history teaching was confirmed by Calvin Buthelezi, the province’s Chief Education Specialist for FET history education who is in charge of Grades 10–12 history education in the province. ‘Most history teachers are struggling to cope with the new NCS system because of the skills based approach i.e. they find it difficult to teach learners on how to work with sources’.
A mixed response to the question ‘Do you as a history educator believe that you are receiving enough support from the Department of Education’ was received from Nkangala respondents who had completed the detailed questionnaire which I issued to them in 2008. Negative responses included the perception that adequate facilities which would enable better presentation of OBE and NCS methods were not provided by the Department and that it over-emphasised mathematics and science subjects at the cost of history.
Lack of support from the Department of Education is a factor which cannot positively influence educator perceptions of history education.
An interesting (and disturbing) point which arose during my 2008 survey was that years after its implementation, few history educators appeared to know whether there was any difference between the GET social science (SS) and the human social sciences (HSS) which it replaced. The differences between the two are profound. For example, the three history Learning Outcomes in SS replaced the previous nine which had applied to HSS. The various Assessment Standards which apply to each of the three SS Learning Outcomes are also new. Surveyed Mpumalanga educators responded in a disconcerting way to a question which asked them whether they regarded SS as an improvement on HSS. Over half of the respondents were unable to answer the question at all. The remainder of the responses were vague and offered no real answer to the question.
This may indicate that many educators have given up trying to follow rapidly changing syllabus developments. The inability of educators to answer the question also raises the issue of their course and lesson preparation, which should surely involve a daily use, in one form or another, of the SS Learning Outcomes and Assessment Standards.
Most present-day educators feel negative about the GET (Grade 7–9) system of incorporating history and geography education under the umbrella of a single Learning Area (subject) namely, social science. One Nkangala educator noted that educators tend to be proficient in teaching either geography or history which led to one of the subject areas suffering.17 Another respondent indicated that because of this, learners were given half or incomplete information. A third respondent pointed out that while some educators concentrate on history, others focus on the geography section of social science.
Calvin Buthelezi confirmed that Mpumalanga secondary school history educators hold a prejudiced view of the relationship between history and geography within the GET social sciences syllabus:
Most educators feel that there is very little connection between the GET and FET syllabi because they feel some educators concentrate more on geography and neglect the skills needed to do the history section and as a result learners pass grade 9 with very little knowledge of how to work with sources or how to start writing an essay.
Nkangala history educators who were surveyed do not approve of the GET history syllabus. The result of this is that they perceive the subject negatively. The syllabus was perceived to lack deep-rooted information. The information which is presented in social sciences textbooks was perceived as episodic and somewhat unrelated. One educator mentioned that the syllabus did not in his view give learners an opportunity to develop a love for and an interest in history. A further respondent believed that the level of the social science syllabus was ‘too much above the intellectual level of learners’, who did not therefore understand what history was all about.
Most of the surveyed present-day black Nkangala history educators do not appear to approve of the FET (Grades 10–12) syllabus either. One respondent felt that topics were not dealt with in enough depth with too little background information being provided. Other complaints centered around content which was perceived as biased. Some sections of the syllabus were seen as promoting hatred: ‘… They are an embarrassment’.
Two other respondents also felt that the FET syllabus was politically biased and did not provide a balanced and complete picture of history:
It excludes the Great Trek, Mfecane, discovery of minerals, the South African War (Anglo-Boer War). It is more biased towards civil rights protest…
It is too politicized – SA history, African history. European history – refers to most of the bad things that have been done…
It is clear that many educators in present-day black secondary schools perceive the FET syllabus as being too biased in favour of the new regime. According to them, it lacks balance and many important sections of South African history are left out. Even Job Mathunyane, a veteran history educator responsible for promoting protest against apartheid education in the 1970s and 1980s and founder member of SASO in Mpumalanga, related that present-day history education at secondary schools is one-sided and that valuable topics are omitted because they do not accord with the democratic government’s conception of political correctness.
Mathunyane further
makes the point that:
The whole history must be told – Luthuli, Smuts, Verwoerd, even the Great Trek – from all sides. Today we’re still being selective about history, leaving out ‘white’ stuff therefore kids aren’t getting the whole picture … Let the white guy say he brought ‘civilization’ but let the black guy say that the government took his land – give it back…
It is not surprising that most of the surveyed Nkangala secondary school history educators felt that the GET and FET approach to history had had a negative effect upon learner and educator perceptions of the subject. In response to a question which asked whether a positive effect upon perceptions of history education had been created by the GET and FET approach, respondents noted that the numbers of learners doing history were shrinking and that learners and educators were no longer motivated to study or teach the subject.
Respondents noted that comparing GET and FET history with scientific and commercial subjects was seemingly irrelevant, but that this perspective was lost on learners, who did not compare social science favourably against other subjects.
The most somber comment upon the effectiveness of the GET and FET approach to history education came from an educator stationed at a rural school:
I would say that with learners no positive effect except that they only study the subject for the sake of passing, finish and klaar! They have lost interest and motivation.
Whether it is teaching a subject regarded as suited for the less able learner (history at FET level) or a half subject (history at GET level) there can be little doubt that many present-day history educators have the perception that they teach a subject of diminished importance.
These responses indicate that a strong perception among the surveyed Nkangala secondary school history educators was that an attraction among learners to mathematics, science and commercial subjects is at least partly responsible for the creation of a negative attitude toward history. This cannot be blamed on the structure of the GET and FET syllabi. Although it may be argued that some educators did not directly address the issue of the relationship between the GET and FET history syllabi, their answers are nonetheless still of interest for the perceptions they do reveal. Two of the surveyed black secondary school educators noted a positive effect of the GET and FET approach to history, in terms of learner involvement in the course material. One noted that the new approach to history education was helping learners to develop a greater interest in history because of more opportunities for self-discovery, while another had noticed a positive effect upon learners and educators as learners were able to work together in groups and as individuals, constructing knowledge from available sources.
History is all too often treated as a so-called ‘dustbin’ subject at secondary schools, suited to the needs of less able learners. All schools which were surveyed relegated history to the status of a subject reserved for those learners who were unable to take mathematics, science or commercial subjects. One Nkangala respondent did not display a high opinion of history-taking learners, noting that ‘most of them are academically challenged or [their] IQ is poor. It is not because they like it [history] but because they have no choice.35 Another educator mentioned that the history learners themselves regard themselves as ‘academically challenged’ and as having a poor IQ.
History learners thus suffer from a damaged sense of self-esteem. Perhaps the saddest response which I obtained in all the surveys which were undertaken came from a Nkangala history educator who described his history learners in the following way:
Learners share the same sentiment with the SMT (School Management Team) because when they are channeled to history they are told that it is because they cannot make it in maths and science. Thus learners take history already having the sense of failure…
The fact that history educators are almost without exception teaching a subject which they perceive to be reserved for the less able learner cannot but have a negative impact upon their own perceptions of the subject. Because history educators are teaching many learners of low ability, their mandate from school management is not so much to aspire to excellent Grade 12 results, but is simply to get learners to pass.
There is little doubt that mathematics and science are given preference at secondary school. This was noted by all Nkangala respondents. History may be a choice subject in the FET curriculum but in reality, ‘learners who fail to qualify for science and economic subjects are pushed into the general stream which offers history and geography’. Most history learners, unable to cope with commercial subjects or science, ‘are forced out from the two streams by educators’. Sozama Secondary School, with its proud record of history teaching (as related in Chapter 3) now relegates unsuccessful mathematics and science learners to the history class.

1.1 Purpose of the study
1.2 Black secondary schools
1.3 The value of history as a secondary school subject
1.4 Historical nature of the study
1.5 Geographical area of the study
1.6 Research question
1.7 Research journey
1.8 Research methods
1.9 Description of surveyed Mpumalanga black secondary schools
1.10 Details of surveys undertaken within Mpumalanga black secondary schools
1.11 Literature survey
1.12 Overview of chapter content
2.1 Educational and political background, 1948–1994
2.2 Curriculum and syllabus issues, 1948–1994
2.3 New initiatives, 1985–1994
2.4 Textbook issues
2.5 Infrastructural issues, 1948–1994
2.6 Conclusion
3.1 Significance and role of black secondary school history educators
3.2 Reactions of educators to the introduction of Bantu Education
3.3 Quality of black history educators after the introduction of Bantu Education
3.4 Perceptions of history educators
3.5 Teaching methods
3.6 Change in ideology
3.7 Conclusion
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Medium of Instruction
4.3 Learner perceptions of history education, 1948–1994
4.4 Learner perceptions of history syllabi
4.5 Ideological issues
4.6 Conclusion
5.1 Introduction
5.2 History education initiatives
5.3 Outcomes-based education (OBE)
5.4 The General Education and Training (GET) Band: Human and Social Sciences (HSS)
5.5 The General Education and Training (GET) Band: Social Sciences (SS)
5.6 The National Curriculum Statement (NCS)
5.7 The Further Education and Training (FET) Band (Grades 10–12): history education
5.8 Conclusion
6.1 Educators’ perceptions, 1994–2008
6.2 Negative educator perceptions
6.3 Positive educator perceptions
6.4 Educator abilities
6.5 Professional and moral conduct of educators
6.6 Conclusion
7.1 Learner perceptions, 1994–2008
7.2 Negative learner perceptions
7.3 Positive learner perceptions
7.4 Conclusion


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