Dealing with Croatia’s Difficult Past in History Education – Part II

This is the second part of a report made by Clara Ramírez Barat and Olesya Skrypnyk on their study visit to Croatia. It is the ninth article in a series of blogposts and reports on all study visits made for the project “Dealing with the Past in History Education”. In this project civil society actors from different backgrounds, visit schools and institutions in countries that are struggling with a difficult past. The first part of this blogpost can be found here. 

Continuation of the report

Day 2: Tuesday 31 January

After the conversation in the University the DwP team visited the City Museum of Split. Opened to the public in 1992, in a palace that was built in the15th century. The Museum exhibits the cultural and historical heritage of the city through a stunning collection of artwork (including fragments of monuments and statues that were once parts of buildings in Split) together with numerous documents, photographs, maps and manuscripts that tell the story of the city. After the visit, the DwP team met with one of the museum educators and another educator from the Maritime Museum to learn about their perspectives on the challenges of conveying to young people the recent and difficult history of the country.

As a historical museum, the City Museum of Split, however, does not cover the most recent period of the country’s history. As a matter of fact, from the different museums in Split, it is only the Maritime Museum that includes the history of the 20th Century in its exhibition. According to the Maritime Museum educator, a historian by training, it is difficult to explain the history of World War II and the Independence War to the kids that come to visit the museum. This is even more the case when it comes to students coming from Slavonia, a region from the Eastern part of the country near the border with Serbia, not only because the war was especially felt in that area, but also because the classes are mixed, with both Croatian and Serbian students. Indeed, she had sometimes been warned by teachers to be careful on how she explained this period to them, and to limit her introduction to the basics—the terrible consequences of the war—without entering into details about the causes and the way the war unfolded. She noted that while often students are surprised when they hear about the war, it is important that students today learn about the recent history of the country. Having worked in the museum for five years, she commented that the memory of the war is fading, becoming less important with each generation that passes, and she worries that students today don’t get much exposure to it in the school curricula. She mentioned that while the war is briefly touched upon in primary school, students don’t really learn about it until they are 15 years old. However, this is only if they go to high school, as those who attend technical schools won’t learn more about it in school.

After the visit to the Museum, in the afternoon, the DwP team went to visit Visoka, a primary school in the city of Split, to discuss with the students why for them it is important to learn history, and to find out what they learn about the difficult history of Croatia in school and what more would they like to know about it. In general the kids agreed that studying history was important to understand the present time, to know more about their country and the society in which they live today.

Understanding Your Own History Through Education – Part II

This is the second installment of a blogpost on Ineke Veldhuis-Meesters study visit to Calcutta, India, which took place from 6 – 13 November 2016.  It is the seventh article in a series of reports and blogposts related to the project “Dealing with the Past in History Education”. The preceding blogpost of Ineke’s visit can be found here. 

Part II. School visits and workshop

Context on Calcutta and the Education System in India

Located in the eastern part of India, Calcutta is the capital and administrative center of the state of West Bengal. The former capital of British India, Calcutta is a veritable melting pot of cultures. The diverse nature of the city is reflected in the education system. As with every state in India, there are schools in the city that are affiliated to the State Board and offer a syllabus designed for the state, by the state. The other boards of education are the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE). These three main boards of education differ from one another in terms of content, modes of examination and assessment. The city of Calcutta also has around 300 state-recognized madrassas, or Islamic religious schools. To add to this already fascinating mix, the language of instruction differs too. In some, it is Bengali, which is the predominant language spoken in West Bengal, in some it is English and in some it is Urdu or Hindi. There is also a large non-formal school system that runs in tandem with the formal private and public schools.

(Drawn from M. Malhorta, 2016 study visit folder)

Visit to Akshar Inclusive School
 Akshar (‘Alphabet’ in Sanskrit) is the first inclusive school in Calcutta. It was started in 1998 by the Rajpal Khullar Trust to fulfill the need to establish an institute that benefits children with borderline special needs. As a rule, the school admits five special needs students on an average per class, who are seated between the other children. While there are teachers trained in special education to give individualized care to the students who need it, each class also has teachers who assist students with special needs, helping them out with whatever they require during a regular class. The school offers the Indian Certificate for Secondary Education (ICSE) board for the mainstream classes, and the Open Basic Education (OBE) and the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) curricula for those with special needs. The academic level is the O-level (like in the British system). The government recognizes the School Leaving Certificates. There are 17.000 of these schools in India, as per the information from the principal Mrs Noni Khular. Before I witnessed classes with Grade eight and Grade seven, I was shown around the school and introduced to educators—both special educators as well as those teaching the regular classes.

Understanding Your Own History Through Education – Part I

PeaceWorks hosted me, Ineke Veldhuis-Meester, EUROCLIO Ambassador and former Senior Lecturer in History Education at Groningen University, The Netherlands, from 6 to 13 November as part of a study visit which included the International Conference on Teaching History titled ‘The Idea of Nationalism’, from 10 – 12 November 2016 in Calcutta. During the full three conference days I could engage with educators from all over the subcontinent, teachers, speakers, and artists from different parts of India and from the two bordering countries Bangladesh and Pakistan. It was striking that some persons coming from the border area with Pakistan were not at the conference. They had been refused a visa to cross the border due to the ongoing conflicts at the Line of Control in Kashmir, a difficulty we experienced at some EUROCLIO conferences. The conference atmosphere was warm and informal, the floor was open to a manifold of concepts, thoughts and opinions, backed up by research or experience. Each day, discussion in groups was embedded in the reflection rounds and during the meals. What creates a sense of belonging in a so religiously, ethnically and ideologically diverse thinking people? And how can very distinctive nationalist models in society coexist with blurred visions? It made me think of Benedict Anderson’s imagined communities. Would it be possible that all can shelter under the ‘umbrella concept’ of ‘civic nationalism’ for which professor Anil Sethi entered a plea? It gave me hope: perhaps it could serve as a practical start.

Prior to the conference I got the chance to interact with teachers and students in schools. PeaceWorks organised five highly interesting visits to very different schools/learning Institutions, all part of their network. Programme Officer Paroma Sengupta, accompanied me at the visits, supported by Subhadrika Sen. Our welcome was a heart-warming experience! It was obvious that students and teachers were well known to Paroma by the way she was greeted. I actually tasted the reality of a common school day in a genuinely open atmosphere. Director and staff were very willing to show and explain their plans, visions, solutions and practice. The students were so open to communicate with that it did not seem like it was a first meeting.   We started with a talk with the principal/director and one or more leading teachers of the history or social studies department. Subsequently, a staff member accompanied us to show the school and visit parts of several lessons, before I could engage in a talk with teachers and students.

At the Modern Academy of Continuing Education, I introduced EUROCLIO in 10 minutes and subsequently I conducted a 90 minutes’ workshop for local teachers and teacher trainees on EUROCLIO’s methodology. In groups of 4/5 they worked hard and had a lively discussion about which concepts and key events of 20th century India to select and how to teach them, especially when there was no agreement on a topic. The teachers and teacher trainees were eager to continue to deliberate and discuss, even though they overran the scheduled time of the workshop. It was also a great experience to meet them again at the conference.

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