IN view of changes to the curriculum, History was made a “must pass” subject in the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) as of last year, but students generally regard History with some misgivings.
It is seen as a dull subject and most don’t see the importance of significant events.
In fact it is for these negative perceptions of the subject that the Government in the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 is trying to instil love and values of patriotism among the school-going population.
Academicians and historians hope that changes in the education system can help develop and strengthen the national identity of young Malaysians.
History provides identity. History is also about good and responsible citizenship and teaches us how to learn from the mistake of others.
However, the question is how effective History is in cultivating and understanding change and societal development.
Malaysian Historical Society executive committee chairman Tan Sri Omar Mohd Hashim said at a recent History summit in Kuala Lumpur that the identity crisis that existed among the people in so many countries was due to their lack of understanding of who they were.
He attributed this to one of the downsides of a borderless world which made youth easily susceptible to change and ideas that gnaw at their loyalty to their nation.
Research from across the globe even showed that citizens in many nations did not know much about the history of their country and how it all started, he added.
This is perhaps the foremost reason why many countries, including Malaysia, have started giving History prominence in the curriculum.
The formulation of public policies, particularly those addressing national identity issues, help strengthen unity among its people.
Asian nations like South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, China and Singapore have been at the forefront of such change, setting a progressive pace for History education.
Omar said that many countries had started with a transformative curriculum that enabled history lessons to become the platform of sharpening thinking skills.
The Education Ministry’s approach and orientation of the History curriculum should also be given precedence, said Omar.
Focus should be given to the efforts of improving the efficacy of History lessons in school through its curriculum, teachers’ professionalism and a more active and creative learning style.
He said it was high time that History lessons be given importance like English, Bahasa Malaysia, Science and Mathematics.
For a start. additional periods should be given for the subject.
While memorising facts and dates were important, students are of the view that it was sometimes pointless to remember such facts when there were other more pressing questions about the subject that needed to be clarified and answered. This only drove students away from enjoying the subject.
A study on improving essay skills on History by Rozita Ngah Mohamed and Zaliza Md Zali in 2005 involving 30 students of SMK Convent, Jalan Peel, Kuala Lumpur, identified some of the problems students had with the subject.
Among them was students’ lack of interest in reading, difficulty in memorising facts, no interest in the subject, their inability to comprehend lessons and the ineffective learning styles.
This was because textbooks were packed with factual information.
The study said that teachers had poor skills in explaining the historical events in an interesting manner.
Meanwhile, research carried out by lecturer Dr Wong Seng Yue from Taylor’s University’s School of Computing and IT, showed that 582 Form Four students and 15 history teachers at five schools in Kajang found it hard to remember historical facts.
He said the focus on text-based learning made it hard for students to get a correct idea of historical events and this had therefore hampered their understanding of it.
While academicians applaud the education plan launched by the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, they worry that the move of making History a compulsory pass subject in SPM would only worsen the situation.
They view it more as an imposition instead of a solution, one that could hamper the process of inculcating interest and understanding of the subject.
This would eventually lead to History becoming another subject studied merely for academic gains.
Teachers would be driven to use any means necessary to ensure students memorise dates, names and events.
This would certainly contradict the type of change that policy-makers and the government wants to see among school-going children.
What they want is to produce students with analytical and critical thinking as advocated by our education policies.
The research conducted at several schools across nine states also identified the root of the problem which included students who did not receive enough guidance from their teachers, poor mastery of the Malay language and poor ability to explain facts.
This showed that the students had yet to master critical, analytical thinking and communication skills.
The research also proposed that learning methods must include field trips to historical sites.
A paradigm shift is certainly necessary to turn History as a subject into one that can shape individuals who are patriotic and proud of their national identity. — Bernama