LATVIA'S HISTORY: EDUCATION, REMEMBRANCE, RESEARCH
July - September 2005 (32)
- From the Past to the Future: Learning About the Holocaust in the Context of the Civic Education
- Schoolchildren Understand Humanely and Emotionally Taught History
- Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks Addresses Participants in the Competition "Latvia's Children Draw Old Synagogues"
- The Latvian President Meets with the Chairman of the Governing Board of the World Jewish Congress, Israel Singer, and the President of the European Jewish Congress, Pierre Besnainou
From the Past to the Future: Learning About the Holocaust in the Context of the Civic Education
A conference and presentation of teaching materials in social studies and the history of Latvia took place on August 18 in Riga as part of a conference "From the Past to the Future: Learning About the Holocaust in the Context of the Civic Education." Taking part were Prof. John Patrick from Indiana University (USA), who spoke on the subject: "Remembrance, Consideration, Rapprochement and Transformations – Inviolable Components of Education About Freedom in a Democratic Society", and Prof. Aivars Stranga from the University of Latvia, addressing the topic of "Holocaust Research and Education in Latvia." There was a panel presentation, "Civic Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes to Create Critical Thinking, Tolerance and Harmony in the Context of Learning History and Social Studies." Participants included Gregory E. Hamot, Peter S. Hlebowitsh and Thomas Misco from the University of Iowa (USA), Aija Tuna from the Education Development Centre (Latvia), and Inguna Irbite from the Cesis State Gymnasium (Latvia). The audience learned about teaching materials and ways of using them. Several educational materials were presented.
Holocaust curriculum materials and training in the use of these materials were made possible by the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Embassy in Latvia through SEED (Support for Eastern European Democracy) funding, a generous donation from the American citizen Sheila Johnson Robbins, a grant from the Task Force for International Co-operation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research, and the Latvian Ministry of Education and Science. Sponsors of the project gratefully acknowledge administrative support which was received from the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad.
The conference represented the 5th phase of a project which is aimed at teaching about the Holocaust and developing and introducing the relevant curriculum in Latvia. The project is to conclude in the autumn of 2005, when, during the 6th phase of the process, materials will be distributed, and teacher training workshops will be held. Teachers will be trained in the adoption of materials, the use of new pedagogical techniques, and the way in which lessons can be adapted to Latvia's national standards. This phase will be the responsibility of the Education Development Centre.
The Education Development Centre, August 2005
LETA news agency (7 September 2005)
Schoolchildren Understand Humanely and Emotionally Taught History
The Holocaust, the repressions of Stalinism, freedom fights – these are subjects which contemporary schoolchildren consider to be ancient and never experienced. In the perception of children, history comes to life when it is taught in a humane and emotional way.
In early August, a summer training session was held for schoolteachers in the town of Cesis, and the discussion focused on how best to improve the teaching of history in Latvia's schools. Teachers mentioned 15 historical subjects about which materials, in their view, are still in short supply, said the board chairwoman of the Association of History Teachers, Aija Klavina. She believes that teachers need materials that they could use in explaining controversial historical subjects to their pupils. "The Association of History Teachers would be prepared to develop materials on controversial subjects such as the deportations, the Soviet era and the events of World War II in Latvia, but financing is needed," said Ms Klavina. She believes that there is a lack of new sources of information, and she also adds that there must be a new methodological framework that would allow teachers to prepare for their classes more quickly and easily.
The Association of History Teachers has already issued several methodological resources for teachers – "Controversial History", "Baltic History", "On the Road to Understanding the Past", and "We in Latvia." A book is currently being written about distinguished individuals who promoted the emergence of democracy in Latvia, and the association is thinking about new materials – perhaps about Soviet-era deportations.
During the new school year, all of Latvia's schools will receive new teaching materials about the Holocaust. The Education Development Centre has published three textbooks – one for elementary school pupils, one for high school students, and one for teachers. "The subject of the Holocaust seemed to be very important, because there were no teaching materials in Latvia with prepared methods and recommendations," says Aija Tuna, a programme director at the centre. One of the authors of the new materials, a history teacher Daina Zelmene from the Smiltene Gymnasium says that the same methodology is to be used for all lessons – the approach of critical thinking. The lessons are interactive, and children have to seek out answers to questions. The questions are formulated so that there can be different kinds of answers. "We do not stop with a discussion of how many victims there were. We go further and lead students to think about the causes of those events," explains Ms Tuna.
The new teaching materials were tested in some 25 schools in Latvia. Aija Tuna says that the response was unexpectedly positive – teachers liked the method and the understandable content of the materials, while schoolchildren and students said that they learned many new things. "One girl wrote that she had seen many films about the war, but only now could she comprehend the content of those films," says Ms Tuna with pride. Asked whether there are enough materials to cover other painful subjects in the history of the Latvian people, the history teacher Ms Zelmene answers: "No. It all depends on the professionalism of the teacher."
"Students have to be taught so that they can explain their own views, not just accept those of the teacher," says Danute Dura, educational programmes director for the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia. She thinks that the interest of students can best be aroused with various projects which require their active participation. That is why the Occupation Museum has, for the last several years, held essay, research and field trip competitions, and winners are invited to attend theme-based summer camps, each one devoted to a different subject of history. The latest was devoted to the theme of Latvian partisans. "I can't say that our competitions attract massive response, but some of the work that the students do is really good," says Danute Dura. She is pleased that many students have said after the summer camps that they are interested in history.
The Occupation Museum is not the only institution to involve students in various projects. The Spidola Gymnasium in Jelgava encouraged its students to produce a film about the Holocaust, and a history teacher at the Riga Nordic Gymnasium, Tamara Zitcere, worked with her students to study the history of the Jewish ghetto in Riga.
Anita Gundega Kanepaja is one of the winners of a competition that was organised by the Jewish congregation "Shamir" – a competition focused on synagogues in Latvia. Her prize was a trip to the Czech Republic. She spent four days taking part in excursions, and the Prague ghetto, she says, was the most memorable. She admits that she had thought before the trip to the Czech Republic that she had sufficient interest in history. It turned out that she was wrong. "I didn't expect that this trip would be so difficult for me. It was not the same as to sit at home, read dry facts in history, and study for a test. It was a major experience for me to see how people had to suffer," says Anita Kanepaja. She thinks that the interest of students in history is influenced by teachers and by the overall level of intelligence in the classroom. She believes that for the average student the information which is offered in the educational programme is quite sufficient, but only projects which require the involvement of students can really firm up one's knowledge.
Diena, Vita Dreijere (5 September 2005)
Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks Addresses Participants in the Competition "Latvia's Children Draw Old Synagogues"
On September 7, 2005, at a meeting with participants and sponsors of the competition "Latvia's Children Draw Old Synagogues," the Latvian foreign minister received a drawing by Jelena Greisa, a student from Daugavpils. The drawing will be presented to the American Jewish Committee in New York during the 60th session of the UN General Assembly.
Speaking to the audience, Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks thanked the participants for their work and emphasised that the drawings help contemporary residents of Latvia to become aware of the life of the Jewish community in pre-war Latvia, as well as of the tragic events of the Holocaust. The minister also stressed the meaning of real human values, pointing out that Latvia's success in the shaping of its future depends on having accurate knowledge about its past.
Sponsors of the competition presented Mr Pabriks with a newly published calendar in which the drawings of the children are featured. They also presented the minister with a map of Latvia on which places that are significant in terms of remembering the Holocaust and Latvia's Jewish cultural heritage are indicated.
Anita Kanepaja, a graduate of the Janis Rozentals' Riga College of Art and winner of the grand prize in the competition, read an essay which she wrote after a visit to Prague.
More than 60 children from Aizkraukle, Jaunjelgava, Limbazi, Bauska, Preili, Ludza, Rezekne, Jurmala and Riga were present for the meeting with the foreign minister. More than 150 children from all over Latvia took part in the drawing competition.
A number of the drawings have been chosen for a travelling exhibition. They were made available to the public in May and July of this year at the Riga House of Congresses and the House of the Blackheads. In November, the exhibition will travel to Israel, where it will be staged at the Museum of the Jewish Diaspora on the occasion of Latvia's Independence Day.
Rabbi Menachem Barkan from the "Shamir" Jewish congregation said that everything possible must be done to ensure that the evil of the Holocaust is never repeated. He said that young people who drew old synagogues represent a bridge between pre-war Latvia, which the rabbi described as "a great light", and Latvia's future.
The competition and exhibition are a part of the project "Latvia: Synagogues and Rabbis, 1918-1940", which is devoted to the commemoration of Nathan Barkan, the chief rabbi of Riga and Latvia. The event was arranged by the Latvian Jewish Society and Religious Congregation "Shamir," with support from the Secretariat of the Special Assignments Minister for Social Integration, the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Education and Science, and the Latvian National Commission for UNESCO.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs (7 September 2005)
The Latvian President Meets With Israel Singer, Chairman of the World Jewish Congress, Israel Singer, and the President of the European Jewish Congress, Pierre Besnainou
Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga met with the chairman of the World Jewish Congress, Israel Singer, and the president of the European Jewish Congress, Pierre Besnainou, in New York on September 15. The discussion focused on Latvia's participation in international teaching and education about the Holocaust. Ms Vike-Freiberga stressed that it is in Latvia's and Europe's interests to promote toleration and mutual understanding. The teaching of history, she said, is of importance in reducing the level of stereotypes and in promoting tolerance. Participants in the discussion spoke highly of the work of the Latvian Commission of Historians, as well as of educational initiatives which are aimed at teaching about the Holocaust in Latvia's schools.
President's Chancery (15 September 2005)
Newsletter "Latvia's History: Education, Remembrance, Research" is a compilation of press releases and news reports drawn from the media and official sources.