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Archives Breathing Life Into Boring History Lessons

Last update: 23/10/2013
By Sakini Mohd Said

KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) -- Ameerah Mansor finds history the most boring subject in school, and there is little one can do to convince her otherwise.

If you ask her why, the Form Four student is quick to respond: "There are too many facts to memorise. It is simply a difficult subject."

Ameerah, a student of SMK Zainab (1) in Kelantan, does realise the importance of the subject in cultivating love for the nation and instilling a sense of patriotism.

Yet, she still cannot help but to perceive history being nothing more than a subject at school that she has to pass.

So she dutifully memorised each fact and regurgitated them during her PMR examination last year. She got an A in history.

But if you ask her today any of those questions from her history syllabus, the ones she had mastered, you'll draw a blank.

"I'm afraid I've forgotten it all," she replied simply.


Sadly, Ameerah's story is not a unique one. Many other students have the same attitude towards the subject. Students often find history lessons banal and uninspiring.

In fact, it is not uncommon for students to ace the subject but forget all that they learned soon after. This has been the subject of discussion by many prominent figures, including national historian Prof Emeritus Tan Sri Dr Khoo Kay Kim.

What is even sadder is that today, many students even question the need to study the subject.

They admitted that if the subject was an elective one, they would not hesitate to give it a miss.

The government, wary of the scenario, is reviewing the subject's curriculum. It is revising a new secondary school syllabus for the subject, hoping to breathe new life into it.

This is also in line with the government's wish to make history a subject compulsory to pass in the SPM examination from this year onwards.


The way history is taught is key to making the subject more interesting. Therefore, teachers need to employ more creativity when teaching the subject.

They could no longer rely entirely on textbooks and confine the lessons to the classrooms, Khoo was quoted as saying.

"Students say history is the most hated subject because one need to memorise the subject to pass. How is that possible?" he was quoted as saying in a news report.

He was also worried at the decline in the number of students enrolling at the University of Malaya's History Department. There was a marked decrease in students' number this year, compared with 1,300 who enrolled last year.

The Deputy Education Minister II P. Kamalanathan agreed with Khoo. In a report, he was quoted as saying that a practical learning medium may increase students' understanding and appreciation on the subject of history.

Therefore, there is a need to take the classrooms to the museums, where the nation's most valuable historical records are kept.

A class trip to the National Archives of Malaysia is also another way to liven up a lesson on the nation's history.


Azemi Abdul Aziz, the Planning and Management Deputy Director-General of the National Archives said while there were many students and teachers who visited the National Archives in search of references, it has yet to become culture in doing so.

The reason perhaps has much to do with poor understanding of the wealth of knowledge that the National Archives has to offer.

Aini Raihan, a former student of Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Sultan Ismail, Kelantan told Bernama: "I have known of the existence of the National Archives, but have always thought it catered exclusively to university students, writers and researchers. I had no idea it was also open to school children."

Poor understanding of the archives' functions has also led many to believe that it is nothing more than a warehouse for the country's valuable records.

Cognizant of this, the National Archives has launched a programme for future teachers called "The Archives and the Malaysian Teachers Education Institute."

"Now the National Archives is working with the Education Ministry to help students learn history through aids from the National Archives," Azemi said.


The programme, which started last year, was found to be of significant help in introducing to future teachers and university students the services and collections available at the archives.

Among the activities held through the programmes are dialogues, demonstrations of material recovery and methods of application for materials.

But what exactly has the National Archives has to offer in terms of making the subject of history more attractive?

"The archive's collection is the "premier" source for the nation's history. You can find original documents, photos of a variety of events dating back to the Merdeka days until today.

The records are available at the National Archives in the form of microfilms, videos, recordings, cassettes, photographs and online.

"We can help students better experience a historical event when they can witness for themselves the handwriting on an original historical document and read the expressions used by the people back then," he said.

That can certainly enliven a history lesson, compared with a textbook alone.

Besides Jalan Duta, the National Archives also has branches in Penang, Perak, Kelantan, Terengganu, Johor Baharu, Sabah, Sarawak and Pahang.