History, a Forgotten Subject: In 1955 when the West African Senior School Certificate Examinations first began, 90 percent of Nigerian students studied and wrote History as a subject. In 1960, the figure reduced to 81 percent, dropping consistently to 21.5 percent in 1975, and rising to 42.7 percent in 1980.
A study in 1993 showed that Nigerian students rated history in the 9th position out of twelve subjects. Alarming as these might seem, even a cursory look at the country’s education system today proves that the situation is worse. History is, more or less, a forgotten subject.
Prof. O.A Adesoji, a Professor of History at Obafemi Awolowo University told Saturday Vanguard: ‘It has been observed that the study of history particularly at the secondary school level had suffered terrible decline in contemporary period such that just for few students are studying History, many are studying Government.
Lagos State for instance, has removed History as a subject from its school curriculum. The factors for this decline ranged from such complaints about the huge volume of History syllabus, the dearth of capable, committed and genuinely interested teachers as well the perceived uselessness of History as a subject.’
Mr. Britto Beneficio, a lecturer of History and International Relations at the Lagos State University, also regrets that history has been consistently relegated to the background for years. ‘It did not begin today,’ he said, ‘it is something that can be traced to the 70s’ and 80s’. When I was a student at St. Gregory’s college in the 1980s, it was a compulsory subject for us.
But it was not so in many other schools. Students had the choice between History and Government, and it had somehow been passed from one generation to another that it was a difficult subject. Even now, because of the dwindling state of the subject, when we take in students to study History and Int’l relations, many of them don’t have a background in history.’
This is no surprise as recent reports show that even the performance of the few students who do History in WASSCE leave much to be desired. In a recent communiqué, the West African Examination Council, WAEC, which conducts the WASSCE examinations, reported that there was a considerable decline in students’ performance in History among other subjects during the 2013 November/December examinations.
Experts say that the declining fortune of history as a course of study could also be linked with the impression that has been created over a period of time that the study of history has no career prospect. But Britto asserts that this position is not accurate. ‘A historian can work almost anywhere. He can branch into Sociology, Psychology, Human Resources or any of the Humanities.
Besides the truth is that most organizations want to train workers who have a good education irrespective of what they studied.’Skeptics might argue that with a 54 percent unemployment ratio, this assumption might be a stretch.
But beyond employment figures, what implications could relegating ‘History’ to history have on the future of the country? Britto believes that the desertion of History will steer the country in the wrong direction.
He said: ‘Any country that cannot learn from history or educate its populace about its history is heading for the gutter. History is the study of the past in relation to the present and the future. It is when we have a healthy understanding of the past that we can create the kind of future we desire. Adesoji argues that ‘if we do not learn from history, we will keep repeating the same mistake over and over again. But the truth is that we cannot escape history, we all will be remembered in spite of ourselves.’ (Vanguard)