Looking to spur student interest in history

EDUCATION Minister Peter Pellegrini recently slammed the way the Slovak National Uprising (SNP) is taught in schools, hinting that it may change in the near future. Teachers admit that young people show little interest in learning about this 1944 event, but say that the curriculum devotes enough space to it. They point to other problems that result in students barely taking notice of the SNP, like the fact that the anniversary takes place during summer holiday.

EDUCATION Minister Peter Pellegrini recently slammed the way the Slovak National Uprising (SNP) is taught in schools, hinting that it may change in the near future. Teachers admit that young people show little interest in learning about this 1944 event, but say that the curriculum devotes enough space to it. They point to other problems that result in students barely taking notice of the SNP, like the fact that the anniversary takes place during summer holiday.

According to the state education programme, children first learn about the SNP in the second half of the ninth grade of elementary school, though it is also briefly mentioned in earlier years. Pellegrini considers this to be too late and says that at that time they are more interested in tests for secondary schools. Moreover, he says that two lessons are not enough for teaching the SNP. These factors result in a lack of knowledge about this historical event among younger generations, he told journalists in early August.

Pellegrini, however, plans to change this.

“Currently, we are amending the state education programme, so we have room to define clearly in which year and to what extent schools will teach their students about the SNP in a way that every elementary school pupil and secondary or university graduate knows which date he or she should remember,” the minister said, as quoted by the TASR newswire.

The Nation’s Memory Institute (ÚPN) says that schools generally devote only few lessons at the end of the school year to 20th-century history.

“It is a pity since the events of the 20th century impact today’s society and its problems the most,” ÚPN spokesperson Tibor Ujlacký told The Slovak Spectator.

When discussing the problems of teaching modern history, he pointed to an insufficient number of lessons (only one a week on average), and also the “persistent Czechoslovak interpretation of recent Slovak history”, explaining that Slovakia is seen as a “non-independent political unit whose task was to remain in Czechoslovakia”.

Ujlacký also criticised the textbooks, which delve only minimally into the Slovaks’ fight for national sovereignty in the 20th century, which in other modern states “is the basis of teaching about national history and currently is a source for building civic and historical awareness”.

Teachers addressed by The Slovak Spectator, however, say the amount of time they devote to the SNP and the methods they use are up to them.

“The quality of the content that the teacher offers to a student is certainly more important than the amount,” Miroslav Sopko, deputy head of the Slovak Chamber of Teachers (SKU) and a history teacher, told The Slovak Spectator.

Dagmar Malečková, a history teacher at the Gymnasium of M. R. Štefánik in Šamorín (Trnava Region), considers the amount of the curriculum devoted to the SNP to be sufficient, also compared with that of other topics that secondary school graduates are expected to learn.

Teaching with innovative methods

Teachers, however, admit that students are not especially interested in the SNP. Sopko says it is the tradition and the environment that affects young people, which he adds are currently very weak.

Malečková says that the students who may notice when the SNP anniversary takes place are mostly those who recently learned about it.

“Over the years, I observed that the anniversary of this historical event takes place during summer holiday, so the students do not notice it at all,” Malečková told The Slovak Spectator.

To increase students’ interest in the SNP, both Sopko and Malečková support using other educational methods to present the events. Malečková, for example, asks students to prepare materials about national holidays or historical personalities. She also shows her students historical documentaries and incorporates historical documents into the lessons.

Viliam Kratochvíl, head of the National Institute for Education (ŠPÚ), confirms that it is necessary to abandon the myth that children do not know enough about the SNP because of a limited number of lectures or fewer pages covering it in textbooks. Students learn more about the SNP when they can connect it to a particular memory, either via a school trip or hearing first-hand accounts from a relative who participated in it.

“The lived history is affected by the social group in which the pupil lives, the family environment, the influence of various media, the behaviour of politicians, and only then by school and the history teacher with his textbook as a basic medium,” Kratochvíl told The Slovak Spectator.

Sopko also stressed the importance of children’s experience with the real remnants of the historical event.

“This can help motivate the young generation not only to learn more, but also to capture its attention,” Sopko added.

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