Africa needs political will to encourage learning of history

Vice President Kwesi Amissah-Arthur has called for a strong political will from the various levels of government and the educational sector to encourage a revised teaching and learning of the General History of Africa (GHA).

He said Ghana was prepared to share lessons from the work of the Historical Society of Ghana on how to make the teaching of history more effective and efficient.

The Vice President said this in a speech read for him at the regional conference on the General History of Ghana organized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to brainstorm on how to translate the knowledge produced so far into methodologies for delivery in institutions of higher learning in Africa.

The week-long conference attracted about 90 participants including academia, historians, deans of institutions and researchers from 50 African countries.

Vice President Amissah-Arthur said the GHA gave hope to the resurgence of interest in African history and it was a good start that provided pointers to the need for further interrogations of unchallenged discourse about the continent.

The GHA was launched in 1964 by the UNESCO to de-colonize concept, methodologies and pedagogies to depict African history to be taught in higher institutions on the continent.

A 39-member Scientific Committee, which was set up to spearhead the agenda, has since produced eight volumes of a GHA book in different languages, including English, to guide teaching and learning of the subject.

The Vice President said Ghana had shown interest in increasing its support for those initiatives and to accelerate the pace at which the teaching and learning of history is being done; it should be fun to teach and learn through interactive means.

“We as Africans and people of Africa descent need to re-examine some of the received wisdom through intense interactions among academic and other stakeholders at various levels, with the intention to build on the critiques provided by the GHA and to open new path that will integrate the youth into this enterprise.

“I am encouraged that the GHA has indeed added more impetus to the need to re-think our history and how it is taught; and this venture initiated by a few Africans and supported by UNESCO is now gaining grounds, and will help Africa to have a history widely taught to its youth from an insider’s perspective,” he said.

Professor Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang,the Minister of Education, said the project was premised on a process of decolonizing concepts, values and general ways of seeing that have been applied to Africa required urgent challenge.

“The journey has been long, many paths have been trod, several twists and turns have been taken. But it has survived, and has made admirable progress,” she said.

She stressed the need for all intellectuals, regardless of their disciplines, to study the GHA in order to have more knowledge to inform the dissemination process of the subject.

“The basic understanding of African …. And their history which has global impacts is imperative to a more comprehensive and fuller appreciation of what the world has become and how to begin to truly and wholly grasp its implications.

“A whole lot of education needs to occur even at this level, given that a good dose of the three victims of the wrong thinking are also the ones we ironically expect to make the changes,” she added.

Mr Getachew Engida, Deputy Director-General of UNESCO, said the project was guided by a single vision – that Africa’s history could not be reduced to a series of conquests and wars, instead it is a history of civilization and societies, a story of their deep and continual exchange with the rest of the world.

He said the second phase of the project, which was launched in 2009, dealt with the pedagogical use of the GHA and it sought to promote the GFHA, to disseminate it widely, through outreach and education.

He explained that in the spirit of the pedagogical use of the GHA, the project was guided by three objectives and the first was to extract common content for syllabuses and textbooks, targeting three age groups on the continent – under 12 years old; 13 to 16 years old, and 17 to 19 years old.

That, he said, would be complemented by a historical atlas, a CD-ROM, teaching tools for primary and secondary schools as well as teaching guides.

The second objective, he said, was to improve the training of teachers, for a renewed approach to history teaching, informed by recent methodological advances.

Mr Engida said the third goal was to promote and harmonize the teaching of the GHA in institutions of higher education throughout the continent.

For over 30 years, some 350 historians and experts, under the leadership of the 39-member International Scientific Committee, collaborated to produce eight volumes of the GHA. GNA

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