As Jamaica marks 182 years since Emancipation on August 1, Social Historian and Director of the Centre for Reparation Research at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, Professor Verene Shepherd, is calling for the teaching of history to be made compulsory at all levels of the education system.
“We must teach the children the truth and to balance the knowledge that they have been getting about the people who are their (forefathers),” she said.
“Stop allowing our children to grow up as disconnected people without root,” she added.
Professor Shepherd, who was speaking at a Jamaica Information Service (JIS) Think Tank on Thursday (July 30), noted that the number of students pursuing history in high school and at UWI has been “sliding down.”
The historian, who is also a member of the National Council on Reparation under the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, said she hopes that the new Education Transformation Commission will take on the issue.
Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Andrew Holness, recently named the 14-member commission, chaired by noted historical and cultural sociologist Professor Orlando Patterson, which will be responsible for conducting a comprehensive review and assessment of Jamaica’s education system, including its structure and operations.
The commission will also recommend actions for change.
Professor Shepherd also highlighted the importance of oral history as a way of imparting information that is not in the archives. She said that through oral history, students can learn about their past from older persons in their communities.
On the issue of the removal of statues and monuments in Jamaica that honour colonialists, Professor Shepherd pointed to the need for a national conversation on the matter.
“I don’t believe that you should throw them in the sea because as a historian I believe in preservation, information and documentation, but I don’t have to walk past them every day; I don’t have to look at them every single day,” she noted.
She said that there is no consensus in Jamaica about removing monuments “that dishonour our ancestors” while noting that it is not too late to begin the conversation.
“I hope that the conversations will intensify because we are talking about Emancipation,” she added.