The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions
for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world
Rwanda’s National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC), introduced social studies in primary school this year. Social studis is the integrated study of the social sciences and humanities to promote civic competence.
The centre felt the need for the primary level to have an integrated approach to some of the issues that are affecting our society such as HIV/Aids, human rights, national reconciliation, environmental issues and general knowledge.
NCDC Director General, Charles Gahima, told The New Times that both the teachers and the students have shown positive response to the subject.
Social studies involve a lot of interaction between the teacher and the pupil hence it has created a better learning environment and a good relationship between the two parties.
He said that they have conducted in-service training for teachers who are involved in carrying out experiments and trials of any syllabus and to orient them on the use and exploitation of curricula and teaching materials.
“Despite social studies for primary schools, NCDC has also introduced a general paper for the A-levels,” Gahima referred to this as the advanced opposite of social studies.
The students will be tested in both international and local politics, technology, environmental issues, current affairs and general knowledge.
This is to ensure that the students are in touch with today’s world. The centre has also introduced entrepreneurship for the O-levels.
Meaning that the students who do not make it beyond this level get some training that can create job opportunities for them.
They get to learn about project management, basic accounting, basic book keeping, custom duty, clearing and forwarding; how to deal with banking and savings and even taxation.
These fields may appear to be common knowledge to many but it helps them in career building. Brian Ssenyonga, a high school teacher thinks that students have a long way to go in the general paper.
“It requires the student to do research and express it in words which requires him or her to be good in languages,” he said.
The major challenge the subject is facing is lack of adequate teachers who are trained to teach this subject. Most of these teachers come from neighbouring countries.
The general study syllabus covers from senior four to six classes and Ssenyonga is not sure whether the senior six final paper will cover only what they have learnt since its introduction or will also contain other classes material.
Another problem that should be addressed is that since the general paper requires a lot of research, the schools have to set up research centers.
To build capacity, NCDC says it ensures that all school curricula are well-understood and effectively used by teachers via regular visits to schools, training seminars to orient teachers, periodic reviews, research and evaluation of curricula.
The centre developed the curricula according to criteria relevant to the needs and aspirations of society relating to the children’s education.
It is anticipated that students will be critical, well-informed, self-reliant, patriotic, scientifically aware and competitive. It is important for students in social studies programmes to begin to understand, appreciate, and apply knowledge, processes, and attitudes from academic disciplines.
But even such discipline-based learning draws simultaneously from several disciplines in clarifying specific concepts.
Discipline-based knowledge processes, and attitudes are fully utilised within social studies programmes.
Social studies students must study the development of social phenomena and concepts over time; must have a sense of place and interrelationships among places across time and space; must understand institutions and processes that define our democratic republic; must draw from other disciplines appropriate to a more complete understanding of an idea or phenomenon; and must experience concepts reflectively and actively, through reading, thinking, discussing, and writing.
“To achieve the vision of social studies, we must ensure that students become intimately acquainted with scholarship, artisanship, leadership, and citizenship, Excellence in social studies will be achieved by programmes in which students gain the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to understand, respect, and practice the ways of the scholar, the artisan, the leader, and the citizen in support of the common good,” he concluded.
The common good is supported when all citizens become aware that the meaning and purpose of education in a democratic republic is the intellectual and ethical development of “student-citizens,” young people who will soon assume the role of citizen.
Individuals must understand that their self-interest is dependent upon the well-being of others in the community. Attention to the common good means putting first things first. If educators address the ethical and intellectual habits of students, other priorities will be realised.
The moral of educators is to see all as precious and recognise that they will inherit a world of baffling complexity. Their responsibility is to respect and support the dignity of the individual, the health of the community, and the common good of all.
This responsibility demands that they teach the students to recognise and respect the diversity that exists within the community.