STOLEN TREASURE: Mask from Benin
PLANS TO include lessons on ancient African kingdoms on the A-level history curriculum have been hailed as ‘long overdue’ and ‘a step in the right direction’ but educators say schools are in need of support to implement them.
The Oxford, Cambridge and RSA (OCR) exam board has proposed a new range of topics, including the option to focus on African kingdoms between 1400 and 1800.
Mike Goddard, OCR’s head of history, said: “Universities tell us that it is particularly important not to tell the story of the non-Western world solely through its contact with the West and so we have tried to address this.
“The African Kingdoms and Empires – Songhay, Kongo, Benin, Oyo and Dahomey topic is just one of a number of new optional courses we’ve introduced.”
It is also hoped that the courses will encourage cultural integration as students study the political, military, religious and economic nature and development of the five Kingdoms.
POWER STRUGGLE: The Benin Bronzes (pictured), are the subject of a dispute between Nigeria and countries like Britain who have them in their possession
The Kingdom of Benin, located in what is now southwest Nigeria, for example, was one of West Africa’s major power players before the 19th Century. Benin controlled trade on the coast and long before the arrival of Europeans, goods were being carried from the shores of the Mediterranean across the Sahara to the major trading centres in places like Timbuktu.
In 1897, they clashed with the British who captured the king of Benin, as well as looted prized brass sculptures.
Dr Toby Green, from Kings College London, said: “It will give students from all backgrounds an important basis of understanding of African histories, and the ways they have interacted with other histories for a long period of time.
“This will deepen our understanding of both Africans and people of African descent among all communities.”
Secondary school history teacher Sharon Yemoh agreed that it is “a really positive development” and one that is long overdue.
She told The Voice: “A recent study shows that history is one of the least popular subjects among black students. Maybe if the content was more related to them they will be more interested in the subject.
“Ultimately, I think black history studies will have a massive impact on what they go on to do in university and creating more academics who are focused on black studies.”
But she is concerned about the lack of support for teachers and schools.
She said: “Having it available is one thing, but putting the supporting structures to enable teachers to effectively deliver it is another. It takes a lot for a new topic to be built into the curriculum and this subject is not a topic that many teachers have the expertise to teach.
FAMILY AFFAIR: Mark and Charmaine Simpson set up Black History Studies to encourage people to learn about African history
“Teachers and schools will need professional development and the aids required to teach the subject effectively.”
Charmaine Simpson, founder of Black History Studies, has welcomed the proposal, describing it as a ‘brilliant idea’. She is, however, disappointed that it is only going to be introduced at A-level.
Simpson said: “It is important that black history is not viewed as an alternative or reserved for one month in October.
“It is crucially important to be aware of black people’s contribution to science and technology. We must study the valuable information in manuscripts like those in Timbuktu, which show our advancement in astronomy and even things like making toothpaste, long before it entered the minds of Europeans.”
She added: “These are things that should be taught in secondary, primary, nursery, in homes before children start school. Without this context it is difficult for black children to develop cultural pride and esteem.”