» New report maps the global status of Holocaust education
26.01.2015 -

New report maps the global status of Holocaust education


How is the Holocaust taught in schools worldwide? Are textbook representations of the Holocaust complete and accurate? What do textbooks tell us about the status of the Holocaust internationally?

UNESCO and the George Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research have published an ambitious new study - International Status of Education about the Holocaust: A Global Mapping of Textbooks and Curricula (ISEH) - comparing ways in which the Holocaust is presented in curricula and textbooks worldwide. It shows where Holocaust education stands today in secondary school level history and social studies curricula, through analyses of 272 curricula from 135 countries, and 89 textbooks published in 26 countries since 2000. 

Aimed primarily at educational policymakers, teachers, academics and textbook authors, the study formulates recommendations for the development of educational content and policies about the Holocaust. These recommendations relate to such issues as the use of concepts, the comprehensiveness of historical facts, the definition of the causes of the genocide, the combination of universal and local approaches, and the development of historical literacy. They are critical today, to “mitigate the misuse of references to this event in an age […] where knowledge about the Holocaust is fragmented and often distorted, if not used to political ends.” 

ISEH can help young people to acquire knowledge and an understanding of this complex event, and even encourage awareness of what may be required in order to avoid similar events happening again. For author Peter Carrier, it is “one piece in a puzzle whose aim is to better understand how world affairs are interconnected, to encourage learning about other peoples' histories, and to foster reflection about the relation between learning and genocide prevention. Although one cannot directly ‘learn’ how to implement human rights or even how to be a global citizen by studying genocides, their negative example does help young people to learn to avoid humiliating and harming others, and to appreciate and preserve what human decency each of us, to differing degrees, enjoys.”

By examining the specific historical understanding of the event in any given country, the study allows for international comparison with countries whose languages and histories are very diverse. Sampled textbooks show common patterns and shared references but also strong narrative idiosyncrasies in all countries, emphasizing the local significance of the event, or appropriating it in the interests of local populations. In other words, ISEH highlights clearly overlapping narratives and divergences in the conceptualization and interpretation of the Holocaust, rather than the international standardization of Holocaust education.

Detailed fact sheets are available for 26 countries: Albania, Argentina, Belarus, Brazil, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, El Salvador, France, Germany, India, Iraq, Japan, Republic of Moldova, Namibia, Poland, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Syrian Arab Republic, United Kingdom (England), Uruguay, United States of America, and Yemen.

For UNESCO, textbooks are instruments of education for international understanding and peace. Teaching about the history of the Holocaust is fundamental to establishing respect for human rights, basic freedoms and the values of tolerance and mutual respect. Started in 2007, UNESCO’s Education programme for Holocaust remembrance develops educational tools and provides training and technical assistance for education stakeholders about the Holocaust and the history of genocide, with the goal of promoting a culture of peace. It is for this reason that UNESCO has endeavored, together with the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research, to produce a scientific report about the status of the Holocaust in curricula worldwide and textbooks. UNESCO is committed to ensuring that knowledge of Holocaust history and the lessons that can be drawn from it are taught across the world. This task  is all the more urgent as the last eyewitnesses are passing, and at a time when crimes against humanity still occur. Studying the history of this genocide means taking responsibility for the future. 

27 January 2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The quest to understand, learn from and apply knowledge of the Holocaust is not likely to end soon. “Knowledge, driven by research, is evolving constantly, such that each generation of teachers and pupils faces new questions, and seeks its own language and symbols to address both the Holocaust and, sadly, subsequent crimes against humanity,” said Carrier. 

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