South African History Online is an impressive resource for both students and teachers, transforming history into a dynamic subject that offers new insight into SA’s turbulent past and ever-changing present.
The site, run by a non-profit NGO, has built up a massive database of South African history, arts and culture. And its staff continually add to the rich spread of content on various historical topics and on the South African cultural scene.
SA History Online aims to “break the silence on the historic and cultural achievements of the country’s black communities” and to celebrate the achievements of all those who “fought for the realisation of a common humanity, the building of a non-racial democracy and the celebration of our cultural diversity”.
Most of the material on the site is therefore very different to that found in the old, apartheid-era school textbooks many of us grew up on. The initiative will go a long way towards fast-tracking the curriculum change in the important subject of history.
The website is linked to a school and community-based outreach programme. Other components of the programme, which is sponsored by the Ford Foundation and Ireland Aid, include an annual history competition using television, print and radio to encourage the public to record their histories and contribute to the tapestry of diversity that makes up South African society – past and present.
There is a wealth of interesting and well-written information on the clean-looking, user-friendly site: plenty of learning materials for grades 4 to 12; content on freedom fighters, women in the struggle, special projects, arts and culture (there is plenty of information on the country’s top photographers, for example), and various other historical and cultural projects.
An important component of the online initiative is teaching new methodologies that depart from the rote-learning approach to history from the apartheid era.
The Classroom section, launched in partnership with the Department of Education, has sections on “How to write your own history”, “Oral history”, and tips for matrics on how to prepare for the year. It also has details on the outcomes-based education curriculum, including which competencies should be achieved by the end of each grade, and lots of learning material for each grade.
The Resources section provides information on and links to South Africa’s various educational institutions, from the National Archives to museums, art galleries, heritage institutions and more. It also suggests further reading, image sources, and offers interesting quotes, letters, interviews and speeches.
“The project will allow young people to not only capture the history of our diverse communities and the broad range of subjects covered in the topic (for example, immigration, religion, arts, science and culture), but will make it suitable for cross-disciplinary use in fulfilling a range of curriculum goals, such as the teaching of social responsibility, critical thinking, writing skills and research methods”, says SA History Online.
South African History Online also has a publishing division, and several books are available to order.