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STUDENTS SHOULD FORM THEIR OWN VIEWS ON AUGUST 1968 TO UNDERSTAND IT BETTER

Teaching August '68 more effectively

THIS YEAR Slovakia commemorates the 45th anniversary of the events of August 1968, when five Warsaw Pact countries – the Soviet Union, East Germany, Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria – invaded their supposed ally Czechoslovakia in a Moscow-directed move to quash the reforms referred to as the Prague Spring.

THIS YEAR Slovakia commemorates the 45th anniversary of the events of August 1968, when five Warsaw Pact countries – the Soviet Union, East Germany, Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria – invaded their supposed ally Czechoslovakia in a Moscow-directed move to quash the reforms referred to as the Prague Spring.

Yet, historical experts say that many students lack comprehensive knowledge about this chapter in modern history, even though it is taught within the basic secondary school curriculum. According to them, students might learn more if the events were presented in a more engaging way, rather than through textbooks.

Today’s students do not know much about the events that occurred in 1968, said Tibor Ujlacký, spokesperson for the Nation’s Memory Institute (ÚPN). According to him, there are several reasons for this, such as personal motivation, the personality of the teacher or the way in which the material is taught.

“It is questionable whether they can form a comprehensive image of the events in 1968 when they did not experience this period, the [method of] teaching did not attract [their attention], or they do not follow journalistic pieces in the media which deal with this issue,” Ujlacký told The Slovak Spectator.

Another factor affecting students’ knowledge of these events is a dearth of quality textbooks in schools, Viliam Kratochvíl, president of the National Institute for Education (ŠPÚ), who also teaches at the Department of General History at Comenius University in Bratislava, told The Slovak Spectator.

Kratochvíl explained that the very first book to discuss the modern history of Slovakia appeared in 1998, and that third grade secondary school students still lack quality textbooks.

Branislav Kočan, a history teacher at Gymnázium Ladislava Sáru in Bratislava, also confirms that the issue of August 1968 is not very appealing to students. He said they work only with textbooks during lessons, as his school lacks other teaching aids, like DVDs or other audiovisual materials, for teaching this subject.

However, he has been using documentary films found on YouTube in an attempt to increase his students interest in the events of 1968.

Other teaching methods necessary

Both Ujlacký and Kratochvíl agree that how the events of August 1968 are taught is more important than what is written about it in textbooks.

According to Ujlacký, it would be better to use methods that make teaching this period of history more attractive and appealing to students, and which will help them to form their own opinions, to respect the victims and, especially, to keep the memory of these events alive for future generations.

The ÚPN has proposed several ways to make learning about communist-era events more appealing to students. The institute, for example, issued a book titled ‘Power of Witnessing’ in 2012, which contains the testimonies of people who remember, and some of whom even attended, the events following the 1968 occupation, which they offer to teachers, Ujlacký said.

Moreover, ÚPN is currently working with the ŠPÚ and the Methodology-Pedagogic Centre of the Education Ministry on developing training courses for secondary school teachers. After the training, teachers should be able to explain crucial communist-era events, including 1968, in ways the students remember and which will help them to personally engage with the issues, the spokesperson added.

If pupils only memorise the facts without forming their own opinions on the issue, then over the years “people will have weaker and weaker knowledge about these events”, Ujlacký said.

To make the teaching more interesting, teachers and students can, for example, create posters or mottos based on certain historical facts, Kratochvíl suggested.

“This is one of the methods of work based on which they will remember more than after reading 10 pages of text or listening to a one-hour lecture by the teacher,” Kratochvíl said.

Another way to present the events of 1968 is to watch historical documentaries and analyse them through an open discussion with the students, he added.

According to Kočan, we cannot expect students to have comprehensive knowledge about what happened in 1968. Yet, it is important to show them the period and the problems the people had to face.
“We encourage them to ask their parents or grandparents to tell them about it authentically,” Kočan told The Slovak Spectator.

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