Description: Partners were asked to report back on the extent to which the two topics chosen for the focus of the project (Causes and Outbreak of World War One, and Voyages of Discovery-Colonialism-Empire), and to which extent critical media literacy and the recommendations of the Council of Europe for history teaching are explicitly built into curriculum specifications under current arrangements.
Summary of history curricula in partner countries in relation to the aims and focus of the EHISTO project
The curricular synopses revealed several major points of divergence in the official arrangements for the teaching of history in high schools across the project partners involved, but perhaps the most reassuring point to emerge was that in terms of the choices which were made at the Augsburg kick-off meeting, the two topics which were selected for focus and development proved to be unproblematic in terms of being taught in schools, sometimes at more than one age level, as well as being featured in popular history magazines.
In terms of the relevance of these arrangements and differences for the execution of the project, several points are worth noting:
In terms of the dissemination of resources and materials arising out of the project, across the countries involved, and across the EU more generally, it appears that Spain and Germany have federal structures for education, with separate regions having autonomy in curriculum arrangements. Sweden, Poland and England have national systems for education, and curriculum stipulations that apply nationwide. This picture is complicated by a recent development in the UK, where although there is still a ‘National Curriculum’ for history (and other subjects), new types of school – Academies (which now account for more than half of high schools in England) and Free Schools, have autonomy over curriculum matters, and are not required to teach the National Curriculum. However, recent surveys by the Historical Association suggest that in spite of this autonomy, and the latitude currently afforded to all schools in terms of which particular historical topics they choose to focus on, in practice there is still a considerable degree of conformity in terms of which topics are taught to students.
Under both current and proposed versions of the National Curriculum for history in England, the causes and outbreak of World War One are and will be taught in just about every high school – it would be highly unusual if any high school of whatever type did not teach this topic. The situation with regard to the second chosen topic (Voyages of Discovery/Colonialism/Empire) is more complicated. Whereas some years ago, most English schools taught about Columbus, De Gama and Magellan and the opening up of ‘The New World’, the very strong emphasis on British history in more recent years has meant that the Voyages of Discovery, Columbus etc, are less widely taught than in the past, and colonialism and empire tend to focus more specifically on British explorers, and the development of the British Empire. The British Empire is a major topic in both the current and proposed versions of the National Curriculum. Popular history magazines also give considerable attention to controversies of interpretation about the British Empire. There is also no shortage of magazine articles about the causes and outbreak of World War One, and this is likely to continue to be the case, given the approaching centenary of the outbreak of this war. As in some of the other countries, this topic could be taught to pupils at more than one age level.
In terms of alignment with Council of Europe recommendations, and the aims of the EHISTO project, there is a considerable degree of alignment with the stated aims of the current National Curriculum for history in England, with its strong emphasis on the development of disciplinary understanding alongside the development of students’ substantive historical knowledge and understanding. The emphasis on ‘key concepts’, such as interpretation, significance, cause, change and diversity, lends itself to the development of materials and activities which contribute to the development of critical literacy, and even in the proposals for the new National Curriculum for history, which place a much stronger emphasis on the development of students’ substantive knowledge of British history, there are still clauses which relate to ‘understand historical concepts such as continuity and change, cause and consequence, similarity, difference and significance’, ‘discern how and why contrasting arguments and interpretations of the past have been constructed’, and ‘gaining historical perspective by placing their growing knowledge into different contexts, understanding the connections between local, regional, national and international history.’
The current citizenship curriculum also stipulates that history should contribute to students’ critical and political literacy, and prepare students to live in a tolerant and diverse society, so there is, as things stand, a clear warrant for history teachers to prepare and use learning object based on the aims of the EHISTO project.
However, in terms of links to the present, and to students’ everyday lives, unlike the situation in Spain, Sweden and Bavaria, the Secretary of State has urged that there should be a move away from trying to make the history curriculum ‘relevant’, and wants schools (as in the Netherlands) to place more emphasis on the classical canon of major events in the nation’s political and constitutional history. It is interesting to note that in the proposals for the new curriculum, history ‘stops’ with the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979, and the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. A recent survey by the Historical Association shows that this goes against the feelings of the majority of history teachers in the UK.
In terms of the range of resources to be used in the teaching of history, teachers are urged to use a wide range of teaching approaches, including museums, field trips and the use of new technology: popular history magazines are not mentioned explicitly, but there is nothing to stop or discourage their use, and it is unlikely that their use in the project would occasion any problems or complaints.
Compared to England and Sweden in particular, the Polish curriculum placed more explicit emphasis on detailing the substantive historical content to be covered in the history curriculum, with less emphasis (at least explicitly) on the development of disciplinary understanding and second order concepts. Although the specifications presented in the summary of the core curriculum did not explicitly link to the Council of Europe recommendations on the teaching of history as clearly as in some other cases, this did not seem to present a problem in terms of teachers exploring and developing materials and developing teaching approaches based on the EHISTO and Council of Europe aims. There was also less direct reference tolinking the past to the present than in some of the specifications in some of the other countries. Although there was no explicit mention of the use of media and popular representations of the past as being a necessary element in teaching approaches, neither did there appear to be anything to discourage or prohibit the use of such resources. In terms of the chosen topics, these seemed to form part of both the junior high school and secondary school curricula, and to be featured in both secondary schools and vocational secondary schools.
The overview of the Spanish system for history education showed that intercultural aims were explicitly mentioned in the curriculum specifications, Article 4 of the ESO level objectives stating that pupils should learn ‘the fundamental aspects regarding culture, Geography and History, both from Spain and the world, to respect the artistic, cultural and linguistic heritage; to know about the diversity of cultures and societies in order to better and critically value them, developing attitudes of respect both by the own and the others’ cultures’. As in the case of Bavaria, there was also explicit reference to students being able to use information coming from ‘the social environment, mass media and ICT.’ As in England, the two chosen topics are taught at lower secondary level and ‘also reviewed at Upper Secondary level.’ In terms of general methodological principles, teachers were allowed to use ‘autonomous approaches’, and there was an acknowledgement that in order to maximise student motivation, ‘it is convenient to explicitly remark the usefulness of the contents to be learned’, and that this could be effected by relating content to students’ ‘environment and everyday life.’ (This is in direct contrast to the proposed National Curriculum for history in England).
In terms of the Bavarian curriculum’s links to EHISTO and Council of Europe objectives, both the topics chosen featured in the lower high school curriculum, between 7th and 9th grade, although there was some variation in the year in which students would encounter these topics, according to the type of school involved. In terms of what the curriculum had to say about the use of popular media products and other elements of public history, the curriculum synopsis suggested that given the inclusion of ‘historical culture’ in curriculum specifications, it was at least implicit that artefacts such as history magazines should be part of history teaching in high schools, ‘moreover the curriculum asks to cover multimedia objects and aims at linking history to the pupil’s lifeworld (extracurricular involvements with history).’ Moreover, in the history curriculum for the Hauptschule/Mittelschule, there was a stipulation that ‘pupils shall learn to deal with press products.’ Another element of the curriculum which accorded with Council of Europe principles for the teaching of history was the requirement that students should develop a knowledge about ‘how “history” is created and what we understand as working methods of academic history.’ Another avenue for the use of history magazines was the requirement for interdisciplinary teaching, which might make possible the use of history magazines in language teaching. (This is an element which might be explored further in the EHISTO project, as this might also be a possible approach in other countries).
Like the National Curriculum for England, much of the Swedish history syllabi focused on the development of disciplinary understanding, rather than confining itself primarily to a list of content to be covered. In this respect there was clear convergence with many of the Council of Europe’s objectives for the teaching of history, and on the importance of developing students’ ability to analyse and assess information critically, ‘Understanding how history is manmade and needs to be critically examined to be of use (and not misuse), ‘Knowledge of time periods, processes of change, events and persons on the basis of different interpretations and perspectives’, and being able to ‘give an account of some historical processes and events that have been used in different ways, and in basic terms explain why they have been used differently.’ There is also (unlike the proposals for the new National Curriculum for history in England), a requirement for students to develop ‘The ability to use a historical frame of reference to understand the present and to provide perspective on the future.’ Although core content is not spelled out in the same detail as in other countries, mention is made of the need to cover ‘colonialism’, and ‘conflicts’, and EHISTO explorations and enquiries before and at the Augsburg kick-off meeting suggested that the choice of topics would not be problematic for Swedish schools, either in terms of what topics were taught in schools, or the availability of appropriate magazine articles on the two topics chosen.
None of the curriculum synopses suggested that official specifications for the teaching of history would pose insurmountable obstacles to the activities envisaged for the EHISTO project, but it is probably helpful for participants to be aware of the differing emphases and nuances of the different systems.