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History as a basic education competency

Believe it or not, the new K-to-12 curriculum that takes effect beginning this school year in all elementary and high school classes discusses both Philippine and world history quite extensively. As former education undersecretary Isagani Cruz pointed out last year, “The story of our country, as told in the K-to-12 curriculum, is a story of fighting for freedom, first against foreign invaders, then against local and foreign rulers. When the history of the world is taught in K-to-12, the same theme of fighting for freedom is echoed.”

In fact, a close inspection of the K-to-12 curriculum guides, easily accessible at the Department of Education website, will show that the discussion of history and historical events can be found in the learning areas of practically every grade level. Cruz cited the teaching of Asian history in Grade 7, which deals with the struggles of various Asian countries against colonialism, imperialism and neocolonialism, and the teaching of European history in the context of imperialism in Grade 8. Furthermore, there are discussions on President Carlos P. Garcia’s “Filipino First” policy that is now enshrined in Article XI, Section 9 of the 1987 Constitution and on the Oil Deregulation Law in Grade 9, and discussions on same-sex marriage, the Reproductive Health Law and political dynasties in Grade 10.

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Finally, everything learned since kindergarten is summarized in Senior High School through a core subject called “Contemporary Philippine Arts from the Regions.” This subject, according to Cruz, “brings the learners to the 21st century, forcing them to take seriously the products of artists living in their own communities.”

The new K-to-12 curriculum shows that the DepEd is not averse to making the appreciation of history a core basic education competency, at par with English, science, math and Filipino. In fact, the study of history is the best way to nurture the discipline of critical thinking in learners, in much the same way that scientific inquiry becomes second nature to students through their science subjects.

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Existing global evidence likewise strongly suggests that a curriculum that consistently nurtures a deep sense of legacy is a key characteristic of high-performing education systems, regardless of whether a society is authoritarian or liberal. For instance, in Fidel Castro’s Cuba, education has always been a cornerstone of the Cuban Revolution. The curriculum is designed to impress upon learners that they are duty-bound to use and improve their talents and skills for the common good.

Singapore and South Korea did the same thing when they took a long hard look at their respective curriculums several years ago. The learning approaches of these two countries differ greatly, but their education systems strongly emphasize national identity. Singapore’s math and science curriculums are legendary, and its students practically dominate international assessment tests. South Korea, on the other hand, imbues its students with a sense of purpose. When they go abroad to study engineering, information technology and healthcare, they do so because they can bring back their world-class competencies for the benefit of national businesses and industries.

Lately, social media has been abuzz with calls to rewrite history textbooks in the wake of Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s bid to put himself a heartbeat away from the presidency. Is the study of who we are and where we came from of such low priority that we need to crowdsource the sentiment in order to heighten its importance?

Roscelle Cruz, the information specialist at the University of the Philippines Library who famously dared netizens and Marcos apologists to unfriend her on Facebook, pointed out that irrefutable evidence and accurate historical accounts of the atrocities during the Marcos dictatorship are readily accessible to anyone who cares to look. “They can just go up to the third floor of the UP Main Library and find me. I’ll give you all the records, documents and photos that I have [of] martial law,” she said.

Cruz raised an excellent point: All the information one needs to investigate any historical event dispassionately is readily available, online or in print. And yet, it is disheartening to see how easily memes and viral videos derail intelligent public discourse, and not just among millennials. I’ve seen well-educated professionals sharing these sometimes humorous but poorly researched posts online, without even the benefit of cursory verification.

In her paper titled “Making a Case for History In Basic Education,” Maria Serena Diokno wrote: “History serves numerous purposes, from the development of citizens as meaningful members of a larger community with which they identify, to the training of the mind in critical thinking and sound judgment.

“The practical applications of historical skills abound in everyday life, from writing reports and accepting (or rejecting) them as trustworthy, to tracing household payments over time and tracking prices of goods at the market.

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“History’s social purpose rests on the discipline’s intimate alliance with identity, both individual and shared. For this reason, history is also closely linked with civics and the values of citizenship, sovereignty, freedom, and justice. For this reason, too, history is taught to children in the hope that they grow up to be fine citizens, conscious of their identities, rights and duties as persons and members of the nation and the world.”

Butch Hernandez (butchhernandez@gmail.com) is the executive director of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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TAGS: education, History, K to 12
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