Making history attractive again
It may not be a case of history repeating itself, but, faced with declining interest in the subject among secondary school students, the Barbados-based Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) is seeking to remedy the situation.
History is not a compulsory subject in secondary schools here, a situation historians say is the reason that young people appear to know little about their past.
The fear is generations are being bred to become, like the Jamaican Pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey said, trees without roots, because they are being raised without “the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture”.
However, this could be reversed, if the CXC is successful in reintroducing history as a “must do” subject.
“We’ve just put together a committee headed by a professor from the University of the West Indies to do some digging into history to see what are the causes for persons not doing history, and to try to put together some strategy for getting more persons to participate in history as a subject,” CXC Registrar and Chief Executive Officer Glenroy Cumberbatch said on Tuesday to an audience gathered in the Steel Shed at Queen’s Park for a lecture on The Development, Challenges and Contribution of the Caribbean Examinations Council.
The lecture, chaired by University of the West Indies Cave Hill Instructional Development and Education Specialist Dr Sylvia Henry, was part of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society’s lecture series themed, Without An Education In Your Head, You Are Better Off Dead – borrowing a line from the calypso, Education, by Trinidadian calypsonian Mighty Sparrow.
Cumberbatch’s revelation was prompted by a comment by historian Trevor Marshall, who charged that “history is now seemingly going the way of all flesh”.
“We understand that at every level, [from] primary, that there is no history [taught] in Barbados basically, except at tertiary level,” Marshall complained.
Asserting that Barbados, and many Caribbean territories were “suffering from the headlong gathering rush” to do STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – Marshall asked, “should CXC not have a plan to save and protect certain critical subjects like history?”
The question from the history professor, who has retired after lecturing at the Barbados Community College and the University of the West Indies, stirred up debate on whether teachers were equipped, adequately supported, and possessed the creativity to teach Caribbean history in schools.
It also echoed a call during Black History Month by activist David Comissiong for an organized system of teaching history in schools.
The Pan-Africanist and President of the Clement Payne Movement had voiced his concerns in February about the way African history was taught in schools, and the fact that it was not part of regular studies at many of the learning institutions in Barbados.
“The teaching of our history, of our black studies, is something that has to be done very expertly and sensitively and with a proper perspective,” Comissiong had advised.
“In the hands of unskillful teachers, or using works that are not well-designed, you could end up doing more harm than good.”
But primary school teacher Claudine Moseley told those gathered at the Steel Shed that teaching history, “all depends on the teacher”.
Moseley, who is assigned to St Mark’s Primary School, recalled that while at Hilda Skeene Primary she had introduced her Class Three pupils to Barbadian journalist and politician, Wynter Crawford, who was elected to the St Philip seat in 1940.
Moseley said the students were made to play dramatic roles depicting Crawford and others of that 1940s, after the roundabout at Six Roads was named after this outstanding Barbadian.
“You may not see Wynter Crawford in the syllabus, but that does not mean teachers cannot do something about history,” she argued.
“In my class, [for] two weeks, we worked our project. Six roads came into my class and on each road was a project that Wynter Crawford did in St Philip . . . You just can’t follow the book . . . . Teachers have to be creative and we don’t have all that many creative teachers.
“That was the jumping off point for doing something exciting on Wynter Crawford,” she said, adding that with such experiences students were more likely to opt for history classes in secondary school and college.