Developing participatory history teaching: Living History Clubs in Nigeria
Sunday Olawale Olaniran
“To be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to remain a child always.” (Cicero)
Understanding the history of their community and country can be an important way for children to better understand current situations, and also develop their interest and skills as responsible citizens who can help develop an inclusive and flourishing society. Yet history teaching is often exclusive and disinteresting for many children. In this article, Olaniran describes a project that seeks to bring history to life in Nigerian schools and thus enable diverse learners to engage in and benefit from this important subject.
Why is history important for today’s society?
‘Historical illiteracy’ is increasingly common in developed and developing societies. Many young people have lost their appetite for history as a subject in school. Yet history helps us connect the past with the present. Not only can an understanding of history help us avoid ‘repeating the errors of the past’, it can help us understand how and why our society exists and give us a stronger reason to contribute meaningfully as a member of that society.
Bringing history to life
Literacy Education and Empowerment for Development in Nigeria (LEEDNigeria), an Ibadan-based non-profit initiative, was worried by the cultural and historical illiteracy it observed among young Nigerians, especially those in high schools. Recent information showed the total absence of history as a subject in most secondary schools in the country. Of 12 schools visited in Ibadan North, Ibadan North East and Akinyele Local Governments of Oyo State, none had a history teacher.
LEEDNigeria therefore decided to take action, and launched a learning club called the ‘Living History Club’ in selected public and private high schools in Oyo State. The initiative was developed with training and support from the Project Social Impact Institute.
Living History Clubs aim to equip young Nigerians with the historical knowledge and skills needed to become patriotic, responsible and responsive citizens in their societies. Most school children sing “the labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain” – a line from the national anthem – every morning at school. But few of them know who these heroes are and why they are considered heroes. Young Nigerians today seem to know and care more about films, sex, pop stars and football.
Our Living History Project is creating contents and materials to educate and inform young people about what has happened in the past, the characters involved, their roles and actions, and help them reflect on how this is shaping today’s events. We believe this opportunity to learn from the past will help Nigeria achieve sustainable development in the future.
Members of a Living History Club
How the clubs work
Selected high schools in Ibadan were contacted to host the clubs as part of their extra-curricular activities. Normally, every school in Nigeria has a dedicated time (mostly an hour per week) for extra-curricular activities like sports, drama, quizzes and debates. The selected schools reviewed the Living History Club concept note and curriculum and then accepted to host a Living History Club as part of their weekly extra-curricular activities.
LEEDNigeria recruited young university students (undergraduates and graduates) as volunteers to facilitate the learning activities of the clubs. They are called the ‘Literacy Fellows’ and volunteer two hours a week to work in the Living History Clubs and other literacy outreach activities. The Literacy Fellows are trained for two weeks on basic advocacy and facilitation skills, as well as on different domains of literacy.
The club activities are normally held inside the school premises, usually in a classroom. Learning materials provided for the clubs include a multimedia projector, short historical videos, national symbols, and pictures of individuals and places of history.
The target participants for the Living History Clubs are students in senior high school classes who have a passion for arts and community service. They are normally recruited at the beginning of school terms, when other clubs in the school are also carrying out enrolment/recruitment activities. Examples of other popular clubs in Nigerian schools are jet club (science and engineering), young farmers’ club, IT club, etc.
Content and methods
The content and curriculum for the clubs are always designed in advance for each school term. For instance, for the term May to August 2015 the topic was ‘Nigerian Flag: the origin and significance’. It was divided into five sub-topics: the evolution of the flag worldwide and why nations use flags; the origin of the Nigerian flag; the significance of the colours; the laws that guide the treatment and use of the Nigerian flag; and the designer of the Nigerian flag. These sessions lasted six weeks and club members learned about the importance of flags to any nation, as well as specific reference to their own national flag.
One interesting thing about our club activities is the use of symbols, pictures and videos which make the teaching more amusing and interactive. For instance, we did not just teach our club members about flags, we took lots of miniature flags to the classroom for them to hold, feel the textures, and see the colours (visual and tactile methods help more children to engage in the learning process, and so help to make the process more inclusive). This is why it is called the ‘Living History Club’.
A key problem is that when history is taught, teachers mostly use traditional, passive methods like reading texts to pupils from history books. This does not appeal to today’s multimedia-driven teenagers, and also excludes children who struggle to learn in this way. History teachers and scholars need to learn how to move from passive history to interactive history. Children want to watch, play, interact, and perform while learning – and these methods are proven to be more effective ways of learning anyway, for children with diverse abilities.
Members of a Living History Club
Living History Clubs have been established in selected schools to promote creative history, leadership and a sense of patriotism among school-aged adolescents. We hope to increase the number of clubs before the end of 2015, and to expand to other Nigerian states. As part of the sustainability plans, we are currently working on a series of easy-to-read short books on Nigerian history for today’s school children. These will be made available online.
Sunday Olawale Olaniran is the founder and team lead of LEEDNigeria in Ibadan, Nigeria.