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Teachers Training and Resources

History Teachers Confernces

It is partly due to the Wits History Workshop s commitment to making history accessible that it has been involved for many years in teacher training and curriculum development. In 2003 the History Workshop, which has a long involvement in the collection of oral testimonies and traditions, decided to host a conference for teachers in Gauteng on oral history in response to the emphasis placed on oral sources in the school curriculum. Working with oral evidence poses new issues and educators responded with enthusiasm. Before long, the History Workshop was requested to workshop small groups of educators in Mpumalanga and North West Province. Each workshop required a slightly different focus and posed exciting new challenges when it came to the practical application of oral history in the classroom.

We have held workshops on an annual basis to assist educators to update their skills and, since 1994, to deal with the challenges posed by changes that have been made to the curriculum. Although these workshops have been held in Gauteng, increasing numbers of teachers from other provinces attended our recent workshops. 

Re-inserting History into the Curriculum 

To understand why oral history has become such as a central part of the curriculum, it is necessary to step back briefly and consider recent developments within the discipline at school level. Outcomes-Based Education (OBE) has introduced alternative teaching methods that firmly opposed the archaic rote learning methods inherited from the previous dispensation. But OBE came at a huge cost - history lost its identity as a distinct school subject and the notion that history was irrelevant, especially to our modern, technologically oriented society was reinforced. Ironically, this development contradicted the general expectation that history would blossom under the new democratic order and that the white supremacist view of our past would be replaced by a nuanced understanding of the varied contributions made by all to shaping our society.  

In spite of this initial set back, initiatives such as History and Archaeology Commission (appointed by the Department of Education in September 2000) and the Review Committee appointed by Kadar Asmal, then the Minister of Education, and led by Linda Chisholm have highlighted the value of teaching history in our schools. According to the Commission’s report, history is central to inculcating a spirit of critical thinking amongst learners. The study of history can also enable learners to gain a deeper understanding of the human condition by unpacking the relationship between past and present and developing a respect for social justice and basic rights.

“[history] both nurtures a spirit of critical inquiry, and assists in the formation of a conscious historical consciousness, which has an essential role to play in building the dignity of human values within an informed awareness of the legacy and meaning of the past…Promoting a strong study of the past is a particular educational imperative in a country like South Africa, which is itself consciously remaking its current history. In conditions of flux, historical study of a probing kind is a vital aid against amnesia, and a warning against any triumphalism of the present” -Report of the History/Archaeology Panel: 3

Following the subsequent development of the National Curriculum Statement and the Revised Curriculum Statement, history is slowly being restored and strengthened in the classroom. History is taught in more defined ways and allocated appropriate curriculum time. These attempts to re-insert history into the class room would be futile, however, if the ways in which history was taught in the past were not changed and one of the most promising trends in the curriculum is the promotion of innovative approaches to teaching the discipline. 

Building Blocks of History  

It is important for educators to dispel the view that history is simply a chronological list of dates and events. The curriculum provides opportunities for doing this by helping learners to gain a feel for what the past was like and enabling them to work critically with historical sources. 

History is made up of three basic components – the investigation of the past, stories of the past; and interpretation.    

* Investigating the past – methodology and understanding historical evidence

Historians rely on various forms of evidence, or sources, to investigate and reconstruct the past. 

* Stories of the past- understanding historical content and concepts 

History is about recording change over time. Changes can be brought on by a dramatic event, such as the 1976 Soweto uprising, or larger historical processes, such as the industrial revolution that took a long time to play out. 

* Interpretation- understanding bias and different points of view

Interpretation is an important factor in both the investigation of the past and in understanding stories of the past.  Historians are not only interested inwhen change occurs, but also about why and how these changes take place. When they examine these questions, historians have to interpret their sources. Historical sources only reflect certain aspects of our past and may be biased or contain inaccuracies. Historians have to analyse all their sources critically so that they can interpret and make sense of past events. 

Similarly, it is impossible to know everything of the past and while historians claim to be objective, their writing is influenced by their own interests and points of view. This means that historical stories, or written histories, also need to be critically evaluated and interpreted. 

Whose History? 

By dealing with issues such as bias and interpretation, it becomes clear that history can be used to promote the values or views of a particular group or individual in society. As we know, much of the history that was taught within our schools in the past was used to legitimise apartheid. On a more global scale, history has often been written to glorify the rich, powerful, and famous people in society. 

The new curriculum is also not neutral and promotes very specific values. Together with a strong commitment to promoting democracy, the curriculum seeks to redress past imbalances by looking at the contribution of all South Africans to the history of the country. This is done by providing space for exploring issues such as Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) and capturing the ‘silent voices’ within our history and the history of marginalized communities. 

The curriculum also states that history should emphasise the experiences of ordinary people and local studies that are sensitive to time and space. In so doing, the curriculum draws on the ideas of social historians. These historians work from the assumption that ordinary people are important historical agents and make and shape history. For the last three decades social historians have attempted to investigate  the histories of rural and urban communities in South Africa that have not been incorporated in the mainstream historical narratives. 

Where Do Oral Sources Fit In? 

The best historians work in an interactive way with their sources. Their sources may lead them to ask different questions than the ones they had first thought of, or may show them that their initial ideas were wrong.  Now that the curriculum’s focus on teaching histories and knowledge systems that have previously been silenced, educators and learners are urged to go beyond archival documents and familiarise themselves various other forms of historical evidence.  It is within this context that an appreciation of oral sources is encouraged.  





The Teachers Workshop was held on 28 July 2012. The topic of the workshop was “Teaching Race” and approximately 50 delegates attended.  The keynote address was given by Prof Zimitri Erasmus on “Ideas of 'race' in the late 19th and early 20th Century: some important things to share when teaching”. Group discussions were held and the overall response was positive with a request to hold further workshops for teachers.




2006 - Mpumalanga Oral History Workshop, Middleburg

Working with the Mpumalanga Department of Education, three facilitators from Wits History Workshop attended a weekend workshop on Oral History for educators in Middleburg. Teachers began by identifying aims and objectives for the workshop. These included understanding the value of oral history, developing skills in conducting oral history projects suitable for the classroom, discussing ways of introducing oral history to learners, looking at assessment criteria for oral history projects, identifying issues around Heritage, discussing issues around Investigative, Reporting, Interviewing and Research skills. Professor Delius made a presentation on Heritage and the Mpumalanga History Project, thereafter opening up for a discussion with teachers on issues around heritage and oral history. An FET supplement to the Oral History Guide for Educators and the National Curriculum Statement were included in the resource pack as a guide for educators as well as a copy of Peter Delius’s “the Conversion” as the basis for a group activity requiring an analysis and evaluation of the piece as a source of oral history. Teachers also discussed completed oral history projects, looking at the challenges faced and lessons learnt. Finally, the session ended with a discussion on assessing oral history projects for grade 10. 

2005 – Oral History Workshop

We hosted several workshops in 2005 on oral history and heritage: in May in Mpumalanga, in July in Gauteng, and in August in Mpumalanga. Our Annual Teachers Workshop was held in July in Gauteng. Its theme was "50 years of the Freedom Charter: the people, the place and beyond." It was very well attended, and a most stimulating meeting. 

2004 - Hidden and Local History

At the workshop held in North West we decided to use material that was more relevant for educators in this province. We focused on two interrelated themes central to understanding the region s history: war and land. By examining the role that groups like the Bakgatla and the Ba-Hurutshe played in the South African War (1899-1902) and their efforts to regain land then and thereafter, we highlighted the unique value of oral sources. The collection of oral testimony and tradition facilitated the re-discovery of histories that have been excluded from the official historical record. Oral sources are central to the reconstruction of local histories: a key theme in the school curriculum. 

2004 - Adapting Oral History for Educators and Learners

We convened two workshops for educators in Mpumalanga. The first workshop provided a basic introduction to oral sources. In the second workshop the material was related to local histories, with particular reference to Pilgrim s Rest, and raised the pertinent themes of land, labour and removal. In this workshop we cooperated with the Pilgrims Rest Museum, a valuable resource in providing educators with oral material. This workshop focused on more practical matters and specifically dealt with issues related to using oral history in the classroom. 


2009 - Indigenous Knowledge Systems

The Workshop was held at Wits on Saturday 25 July, 2009. The theme was IKS (Indigenous Knowledge Systems) and the keynote speaker was Mr. Motheo Koitsiwe, IKS Centre of Excellence at the University of the North West. Input was given by a number of the committee members, including Cynthia Kros, Sekiba Lekgoathi, Tshepo Moloi, Siobhan Glanvill and Leanne Horwitz from Parktown Girls High School. There was also a presentation from SAHA entitled SAHA in the Classroom by Ms Catherine Kennedy. A useful set of materials relating to IKS and the History curriculum was produced. The 60 participants responded enthusiastically to the theme and material provided. 

2006 - Telkom: Artists in Conversation

Wits History Workshop in association with the Wits School of Arts and Telkom hosted a workshop focusing on Art and Oral History in education. Forming part of Telkom’s “Artists in Conversation” project and exhibition, the workshop focused on the interaction between art and oral history and ways of integrating art and oral history in the classroom, particularly using the CD-rom resource produced as part of the Telkom project. Approximately forty-five art and history teachers for grades 10-12 attended the half-day event held at Wits Art Galleries at University Corner. A resource pack was provided consisting of the transcripts of interviews from the Telkom CD, along with a copy of the CD-rom itself and an introduction by Professor Cynthia Kros from History Workshop and David Andrew from Wits School of Arts. Teachers were taken on a walkabout of the exhibition by facilitators, being introduced to the work of the different artists. The walkabout was then followed by breakaway session where Art and History teachers got together in groups discussing the biographies and transcripts of the artists in relation to their work. Provided with tape recorders, teachers had an opportunity to record their own discussion and reflect on questions around oral history and its value in the classroom. A brief introduction to the CD-rom and a demonstration on its use was then given by Leanne Engelberg from Telkom. Evaluations were completed by the teachers, which were passed on to Telkom. The workshop was filmed by Kagiso TV. 

2006 - Who Does June 16th Belong to?

A keynote address entitled “The Mapping of the Soweto Uprisings Student Routes: Past Recollections and Present Reconstruction(s) was delivered by Ali Hlongwane (of the Hector Pieterson Memorial). A panel discussion was then held with panelists discussing perspectives and experiences of June 16th. Included in the panel were: Antoinette Sithole, Steve Lebelo, Mike Madlala and Sifiso Ndlovu. Teachers then had a break-away session for an exercise on developing rubrics for assessment. Pinned up for a gallery walkabout, the different groups then assessed each other’s rubrics with general discussion on the merits of such an exercise. After lunch, teachers were taken on a tour to the Hector Pieterson Memorial, guided by Antoinette Sithole.  

2004 - Gauteng: Annual Teachers Workshop

Our annual workshop in July 2004 was entitled Re-thinking Africa in South Africa . The study of Africa features prominently in the curriculum for almost all grades in the senior and further education and training phases. In the workshop we challenged South Africans stereotypical and simplistic images of the rest of Africa. One of our guiding concerns was the construction of identities through time that has occurred in Africa, which took us from the pre-colonial period to post independence. Throughout our considerations of Africa bore in mind the question that the Grade 12 Curriculum Statement poses about the uniqueness of South Africa. The workshop was a resounding success and over 120 teachers and educators attended from across the country.