Danemark, Slovaquie, Lettonie : histoire scolaire en tension

Le 31 janvier avait lieu au parlement européen une table-ronde sur l’enseignement de l’histoire co-organisée par les députés européens Malika Benarab-Attou et Oleg Valjalo, ainsi que l’association Euroclio . Cette présentation fut notamment l’occasion de la présentation des résultats d’une enquête internationale “Making History work for Tolerance: A Research-Based Strategy to Reduce the Intolerant Usage of History Teaching”menée conjointement au Danemark, en Lettonie et en Slovaquie. L’enquête s’est basée sur des données combinant des entretiens, des recueils de débats publics et s’est notamment focalisée sur la question de la place de l’histoire nationale dans l’enseignement au regard des tensions politiques inhérentes à la place des minorités dans ces Etats-Nations. 

Nous publions ci-dessous une compilation des quatre interventions qui l’ont successivement présentée. 

Rédactrices : Maria Gobuleva, Marcela Maslová, Linda Curika, Jenny Strid

Introduction : Maria Golubeva

 The project Making History work for Tolerance: A Research-Based Strategy to Reduce the Intolerant Usage of History Teaching addresses the need to reduce political manipulations with history education in order to increase tolerance among majority and minority population (including migrants) and to reduce xenophobia. The project is intended to contribute to practice-oriented activities such as trainings for history teachers, enabling them to resist politicisation of history education and to promote a critical and reflective approach to learning about the past and its implications for the coexistence of different groups in society.

Network of Education Policy Centres together with Danish History Teachers’ Association, Centre for Public Policy PROVIDUS (Latvia) and Orava Association for Democratic Education (Slovakia) have conducted joint research, questioning the ways in which political narratives and perceptions of the role of different groups (majority and minority) in society are projected in history teaching in Denmark, Latvia and Slovakia.

The recommendations following from the study indicate ways to support to teachers‘ ability to resist political and xenophobic pressures and to enable them to continue as professional and creative educators with their task of educating critical and tolerant citizens who support equality between citizens of different backgrounds and their joint ownership of their society and state.

When seeking to understand how political narratives and perceptions of the role of different groups (majority and minority) in society are projected in history teaching, we have focused on four different levels:

  • The political level: debate between different political interests in the public sphere about the sense or meaning of the nation state. Such debate often concerns criteria of membership in the nation, projecting old and new stereotypes about ‘us’ (majority, increasingly labelled ‘state-founding nation’) and ‘them’ (old and new minorities, usually understood in cultural terms).
  • The policy level: history curricula and other policy documents defining the goals of history teaching in today’s society.
  • The professional: the opinions of experts and history teachers on the role of history teaching in elucidating conflict and coexistence of different groups in society and promoting a certain understanding of nation, society and tolerance, as well as the obstacles to promoting a more critical and less intolerant perspective.
  • The student level: students as the ultimate target audience of discourses promoted through history teaching.

The present study addressed the political and the policy levels through desk research. The political level was explored by studying publications of speeches, interviews and other expressions of opinion of political party leaders and policy makers, focusing on the presence of what has been termed ‘ethnic discourses’.[1] The policy level has been explored by identifying the goals of history teaching as described in national curricula, as well as the space accorded to teaching the history of minorities and migrants within national curriculum. The professional level was explored though interviews with history didactics experts and with history teachers. The students level was reflected through focus groups with students, asking them to share their experience of learning history in connection with learning about different groups in society and acquiring understanding of different perspectives on past and present conflicts and issues of intolerance and discrimination.

Findings of the study

Politicisation of history and exclusive vision of the nation-state

 Politicisation of history has become a permanent feature in a number of countries in Europe, including countries in this study, due to the nature of debates about national identity sparked by politicians and opinion leaders.

In Slovakia, debates about the place of minorities in society have led to political statements claiming that history of the country is to be understood as a path to creating the state for the Slovak majority. Thus, in February 2013 Prime Minister Robert Fico claimed that the Slovak state “has not been established preferentially for minorities, although we respect them, but primarily for the Slovak state-creating nation,” which led him to conclude that minorities are making too many demands on the state and not sufficiently cultivating citizens’ virtues. The claims provoked a heated debate in the national media and protests from representatives of minorities.[2]

 A very similar debate has happened in Latvia prior to the adoption of the new National Identity and Intergation Policy Guidelines[3] in 2011, when a leading legal expert E. Levits proposed the thesis (accepted in the policy document) that Latvia as a state has been created by the Latvians, a culturally defined state-founding nation, and citizens not belonging to this cultural group have to be defined either as minorities or immigrants.[4]

In Denmark, the debate in the public about the influence of immigration on culture has repeatedly generated arguments claiming that the core Danish identity, based on Danish national history, Danish language, religion, and other Danish values is threatened. Many opinion leaders actively opposed the option of Denmark developing as a multicultural society. 

The Latvian and Slovak research reports for this study show that power relations reflected in political discourses support the notion that history of the ethnic majority or the ‘state-creating nation’ is the history that has to be taught in schools. This discourse relegates the history of other groups to the margins, even if elements of minority history are included in the curriculum.

 Experts and teachers: expectations and pressures

“Tolerance from a history teaching point of view is understanding, how and why differing narratives of an event develop and persist in public memory”. History teaching expert, Slovakia

“The worst that can happen is when teacher sees history only as black and white; divides everything into bad and good and then pushes this on a student”. This goes against a system which belongs to a democratic state. History teaching expert, Latvia

Interviews with history teaching experts and history teachers reveal that in Latvia and Slovakia, history teachers are more exposed to political discourses treating history as a basis for an exclusive vision of the nation state.

In Latvia, the subject of History in lower secondary school has been separated into History of Latvia and History of the world, after pressures by opinion leaders claiming that the uniqueness of Latvia as a nation state is in danger. Latvian history teaching experts have noted that history curriculum does not dictate unitary views on history of Latvia, allowing teachers and students to use different approaches and materials, and to compare different views on history. The underlying history narrative in many cases, however, is still often influenced by cultural nationalism. Other experts in the media have noted the radicalisation of political views in minority (Russian-language) schools, linked to the current growth of non-democratic discourses in Russia and in Russian-language history literature, including glorification of Stalinism and Soviet Union and occasionally denying the mass violations of human rights and mass murders.[5]

Teachers’ interviews in Latvia reflected a high degree of uncertainty about external stakeholders’ (politicians and journalists) expectations and demands on history teaching, as well as a sense of frequent interference from the media in the work of history educators, approaching history teaching with narrowly understood criteria of ‘teaching patriotism’ and applying standards that are far more limiting than those outlined in national curriculum. History Teachers’ Association of Latvia has been criticised in the media for a ‘cosmopolitan’ position, and the daily media ‘test’ students, in order to see whether their knowledge of dates deemed important in national remembrance culture is adequate to what the media expect. When they fail, the teachers and policy makers are blamed for not teaching history well enough.

In Slovakia, given the political uses of history in leading politicians’ discourses, the experts have stated that history education has been and still is politicised. Therefore, they believe that teachers should be able to help students to understand manipulative uses of history by politicians. In the opinion of experts, in Slovakia history teaching ‘does not reflect much on the relations between different groups in the country, at least not explicitly. However, implicitly it teaches mostly negative content – stories on victories and oppression of a nation reproducing an image of an enemy (mostly defined ethnically).’[6] Consequences of such approach include a narrow perception of relations between different groups in society as exclusively a struggle for power, leading potentially to hostility and xenophobia.

Teachers’ interviews in Slovakia have demonstrated that in some cases, history teachers have uncritically received political visions of the goals of history teaching as a tool of asserting the nation-state narrative.

History teaching experts interviewed for this study in the three countries have all agreed that multi-perspectivity and ability to communicate to students a critical and reflective approach to historical events and narratives should be at the core of history education. The Danish experts, when discussing the role of history education in raising critical and tolerant citizens, tend to focus more on the historical perceptions and identity of students with migration background,[7] implicitly pointing to their ‘historical consciousness’ as more problematic. At the same time, Danish experts, in particular, put much emphasis on professional and didactic approach to history teaching.

Teachers in Denmark see their own role mainly in stimulating pupils’ historical curiosity, developing their reflective skills, and teaching them to work independently and to use multi-perspectivity in dealing with historical materials and topics.

To conclude, experts in Latvia and Slovakia see a formidable challenge for history education fostering critical and reflective attitudes and promoting democratic citizenship. This challenge comes from nationalist discourses at the political level, forming a pressure that teachers as professionals dealing with history education are exposed to. The pressure on history educators could be best of all countered by professionals – researchers and didactics specialists and history teachers’ associations, however, despite their efforts and professionalism, their organisations are under-resourced.

In Denmark, experts are less concerned with the issue of nationalism, and more with the issue of professionalism of approach and ‘history didactics’. Danish history teachers do not feel pressures from politicians, and their understanding of their task as history educators is based on theory of history didactics supported by research and an existing community of practice. Nevertheless, teachers interviewed for the study often see the task of reconciling or integrating different narratives and perspectives brought by students from the immigration communities as challenging.

Students’ views

The views expressed by students regarding the goals of learning history and the influence of history education on tolerance and intolerance differ between the three countries, reflecting different kinds of consensus regarding the roles of different groups in society, but also the role of school as communicator of a state-endorsed, socially acceptable perspective on history.

Grammar school (gymnasium) students is Denmark and Slovakia have a rather theoretical and reflective perception of history teaching. E.g. gymnasium students in Slovakia find that the way history is taught in their school helps enhance critical perception of historical events and reflection on basic human values.

In Latvia, discussions with students revealed that they often find history teaching simply boring, and do not identify much with the narrative presented by teachers – largely, it seems, due to didactic challenges. Students almost unanimously conclude that history is a boring subject with many dates to be learned by heart: “History is boring and it is just another subject that is based on learning facts. For me the hardest part is remembering correct dates, I would really need some help with that. ” This is not surprising given the thematic and factual overload of the Latvian history curriculum. No clear understanding or even a hypothetic vision of the link between history learning and tolerance or intolerance has emerged from discussion with students in Latvia.


Given the growth of exclusive and intolerant political discourses in many countries, including the countries in the study, the ability of history educators to maintain a critical, reflective and democratic approach to history teaching is very important. This ability, however, depends on a number of factors, and the situation is different in Denmark on the one hand, and in Latvia and Slovakia on the other hand.

In Denmark, history teachers feel sufficiently independent to present a balanced and critical approach to history to their students, and feel that they have necessary didactic and methodological resources and sufficient time to do so. A possible area of concern, which was not raised by Danish researchers, is the insufficient representation of the perspective of teachers and parents from immigration communities on how history in a diverse society should be taught.

The situation is different in Latvia and Slovakia, where the politicians’ concept of the (ethnic and cultural) majority being the ‘state-founding’ nation exclusively defining the nature of the state, exerts pressure on teachers engaged in history education. Such pressures do not encourage the teaching of critical and reflective approach to historical knowledge. Unlike teachers in Denmark, teachers in Latvia and Slovakia do not feel protected by a sufficient professional autonomy from immediate political pressure. Professional associations that could support teachers’ critical engagement with challenging aspects of history teaching and protect their professional autonomy, are there, but they are under-resourced and do not have much political weight.


Supporting history teacher’s capacity to resist political and xenophobic pressures is essential in order to enable them to continue as professionals with their task of educating critical and tolerant citizens. It is important to use flexible approach in capacity building for teachers in each country, while maintaining the common goal of empowering teachers and students.

 In Latvia and Slovakia, building teachers’ capacity to maintain a professional and critical approach to the goals and methods of history teaching should help them to withstand pressures that seek to make history teaching a simplistic tool for imposing political ideologies.

This capacity building may include (but not be limited to):

  • Trainings in media literacy and critical analysis of discourses;
  • Trainings in history didactics with particular focus on dealing with conflicting historical narratives in the students’ personal and school environment;
  • Trainings in history didactics with particular focus on linking history with issues of social memory and analysis of remembrance cultures;
  • Trainings in history didactics with particular focus on human rights and democratic citizenship.

 In Latvia and Slovakia, it is also necessary to support and build the capacity of social memory researchers and history teachers’ associations to become safeguards of a professional and socially responsible approach to history teaching.

 It is important to continue involving the perspective of new minorities in history teaching not only at the level of students, but also at the level of teachers and other representatives of minority communities, such as parents.

 Slovak Republic : Marcela Maslová

Four main findings result from the study :

Politicisation of history has been a permanent feature of political discourses and debates in Slovakia.

 In February 2013, Prime Minister Robert Fico at the conference of the 150th anniversary of the Slovak Matica claimed, that the Slovak state “has not been established preferentially for minorities, although we respect them, but primarily for the Slovak state-creating nation”, and concluded his statement by depicting minorities living in Slovakia as the ones making too many demands on the state and not sufficiently cultivating citizens’virtues.  The claims provoked  a heated debate in the national media and protests from representatives of minorities.[8]

Moreover, experts observations show, that historical narratives on  past events or persons can became a subject of a massive public interest, especially if they are used as a carrier for a particular political or ideological agenda.

The power relations reflected in political discourses and debates support the understanding that history of a state-creating nation is the one that has to be taught in schools as a national history.

Political manipulations and politicisation of history has been admitted by most of the interviewed policy makers, history experts and teachers. They criticize partiality and political under-painting present at public debates and history resources. Teachers’ interviews in Slovakia have demonstrated that in some cases, history teachers have uncritically received political visions of the goals of history teaching.

Teaching of history concentrates on memorization and reproducing of historical content, rather than developing critical thinking and interpretative skills.

Debates on teaching history in Slovakia concentrate on the aims of the teaching itself: what shall be a purpose of history teaching? What kind of knowledge, skills, and attitudes should students acquire for their life? Should they just memorise contents of books or should they acquire competencies, how to find proper resources related to a historical topic of their interest, and be able to recognise low quality resources? In the opinion of expert, “ history lessons are prevailingly used as a space for targeted indoctrination of pupils with “identity reproducing” stories on national glory, on martyrdom, national foes and friends, etc.”[9] Therefore both, experts and teachers emphasize the need to help students to understand manipulative uses of history by politicians. “Because history education has been and still is politicized, students should be able to recognise, why particularly now a particular politician strives to drive their attention to a particular historical story,” [10] points out expert.

Students see that history events can be interpreted differently, but they do not find ways how to put different perspectives together to come to their own conclusions.

Students interviewed at the study encounter different interpretations of the same historical events at school and family.  Therefore they sometimes feel confused.  Twelfth grade student of grammar school reveals that her Polish mother and Slovak father have also different views of the same historical events : “ I want to explain them how it really was, but my parents do not want to listen to me. I do not know where the truth is.[11] 

Among the values their history teacher is trying to teach them they highlight basic human rights, like the respecting of life, respecting of others, tolerance, etc. They sometimes feel as if some politicians never looked back to the past and as if they did not want to learn from history. “Unfortunately, people have been always voting for the same persons at elections[12], remarks a grammar school student.

Findings of the study : comparative

 Given the growth of exclusive and intolerant political discourses in many countries, including the countries in the study, the ability of history educators to maintain a critical, reflective and democratic approach to history teaching is very important. This ability, however, depends on a number of factors, and the situation is different in Denmark on the one hand, and in Latvia and Slovakia on the other hand.

In Denmark, history teachers feel sufficiently independent to present a balanced and critical approach to history to their students, and feel that they have necessary didactic and methodological resources and sufficient time to do so. A possible area of concern, which was not raised by Danish researchers, is the non-representation of ‘new Danes’ of migration background among experts, and insufficient representation of the perspective of ‘new’ Danes on how history in a diverse society should be taught.

The situation is different in Latvia and Slovakia, where the politicians’ concept of the (ethnic and cultural) majority being the ‘state-founding’ nation exclusively defining the nature of the state, exerts pressure on teachers engaged in history education. Such pressures do not encourage the teaching of critical and reflective approach to historical knowledge. Unlike teachers in Denmark, teachers in Latvia and Slovakia do not feel protected by a sufficient professional autonomy from immediate political pressure. Professional associations that could support teachers’ critical engagement with challenging aspects of history teaching and protect their professional autonomy, are there, but they are under-resourced and do not have much political weight.


 –  History teaching should shift   from memorising of the stories to the developing of interpretative and critical thinking skills, motivating students  to engage in individual intellectual activities,  teaching fundamental  strategies of independent learning,  developing of  practical skills needed for formulating of fact-supported views and consistent arguments, and  for evaluation and interpretation of a wider spectre of sources.

 –       Special attention should be given to modern history, because it concerns events of a direct impact on present life, and still occurs at a  living memory of older generations (e.g. WWII, Communism, etc.).

 –       More attention should be given to the developing of history textbooks. Some authors  tend to stay  subjective and view history their own way, trying to protrude their own opinions, which  deprives students from developing life-long learning competencies   and searching for their own conclusions.

 –       More effort should be put on public discourse about the goals and values of history teaching in order to prevent from political manipulations and “privatizing of the history” by some political parties or individuals.

 In Latvia : Linda Curika

For the context of this policy brief, it is crucial to take into consideration that the unique historical narratives of the region are still very much present in the current day Latvia and provides a significant backdrop against which many of the decisions are made. However, many of the more controversial and xenophobic/intolerant views are not voiced out loudly in the public sphere and are instead reserved for private conversation in families and in some cases, schools as well. Since direct, aggressive xenophobic discourse surfaces rarely, media content and discourse analysis is not particularly helpful for this type of analysis, as it does not fully describe the situation in the country.

At the same time, political discourse can in certain cases be useful in this regard as it serves as a reflection of the ‘general will’, so to speak.

In Latvia there is no common opinion on whether history of territory, history of state nation, or history of inhabitants of Latvia should be taught, and lack of this understanding brings out certain problems – for example, should expat history and history of other nationalities become a part of the curriculum or not. History of Latvia has been taught from ethno-centric point of view, historical narrative of Latvia being nationalistic or neutral, sometimes even hateful towards the others, irrespective of whether they are Russian or German.

In 2010 in Latvia, the Cabinet of Ministers adopted legislation that divided history teaching into two subjects in primary schools, which was a change promoted by nationalistic politicians. Main aim of this legislation was to use history as a tool for patriotic upbringing in Latvian schools. Students’ knowledge on history events and dates is frequently tested by the media, so teachers constantly feel pressurized to address this demand. Although teachers in Latvia have creative freedom to use materials and methods they find appropriate, it is obvious that they feel pressured by the media to teach according to the political agenda, which can be subject to change.

Findings of the national study


Teaching of Latvian and world history at school is defined in the National Standard in accordance with the General Education Law. The Standard establishes the main goals and objectives of general educational (?) programmes, the compulsory content of general education and basic principles and evaluation procedures of education obtained by the learners. The National Standard of the General Education is compulsory to follow for anyone who drafts and implements general educational programmes, except pre-school education programmes. There is one single teaching standard for the subject of history and it applies to all schools including those implementing the Education Program for National Minorities.

In 2010, the Cabinet of Ministers adopted legislation that divided history teaching into two subjects in primary schools. Since the end of the transition period in school year 2012/2013 Latvian and world history in basic education are taught as two separate subjects. One of the objectives of the learning subject „History of Latvia” is to promote the sense of affiliation to the Latvian State and patriotism. According to the Standard, while acquiring the subject students also learn that a diversified society is a result of the historical process and learn to react with tolerance to varied explanations of historical events.

The objectives of the learning subject “Latvian and world history” cover creating an opportunity for the students to realize the importance of knowledge of history in understanding of the past and choosing the possible alternatives of personal and societal development, improving the knowledge and awareness of the key events in Latvian, European and world history and the historical development of the Latvian statehood. The compulsory content of the learning subject prescribes that topics of the „History of Latvia” should constitute at least one third of the overall number of history lessons.

It is possible to conclude that from a normative perspective, history teaching is based on tolerance and teaching students a broader view on controversial history questions. The choice of educational literature is the school’s competence. Teachers have creative freedom to use any materials or methods they consider effective. Overall, history standard does not dictate unitary views on history of Latvia; the task of history teaching is to teach students to analyse different approaches, materials, views on history facts and understand that there is a diversity of views.


 Overall teachers feel responsible for history teaching and view it as a tool for patriotic upbringing, feeling responsible for students’ knowledge about Latvian, not so much World history events. Media pressure is constant, every year students are tested by media about their knowledge about „important dates and their meaning” and after some of them fail, teachers and the educational system is blamed. In interviews teachers admit that they feel the pressure to teach the “right facts” and, although there is a creative freedom, they need to teach history according to the current political agenda. 

Students do not recognize the importance of separate subjects and overall do not see how history teaching could be connected to tolerance or teaching them about „others”. Still, they have a feeling that sometimes teacher tells a different story about history than what can be read in history textbooks, though they believe it is mainly connected to the fact that „history textbooks just give us uninteresting facts, that are boring and teacher tries to make it more interesting”.[13]Students sometimes hear different stories about history at home as well. History teachers stressed that a there is a lack of data on experiences and challenges teachers in minority schools face in teaching controversial history facts.

Students’ responses regarding living with different cultures and real life tolerance differ from student to student and from school to school. Part of the students stressed the notion “Latvia for Latvians” (both Russian and Latvian), although their ideas what constitutes being a Latvian were different. For some students it was nationality, for others – every-day practices (celebrating 18th November, singing songs, etc.).  Yet another part of the students stressed the necessity of anyone living in Latvia to be a good citizen – to follow laws, to know correct dates and reasons for celebrations and history. For all students knowledge of Latvian language was an important aspect of becoming and being a Latvian.

Public discourse

 As stated before, in Latvia teachers feel the pressure to teach the “right facts” and, although there is a creative freedom, they need to teach history according to the current political agenda. 

In media it is possible to find numerous stories about teachers from minority schools, who use history textbooks, which have been printed in Russian federation. Those teachers are then shamed on different media channels for bringing the “wrong version of history into schools”. Recently TV program “Forbidden Practice”[14] tested a few Russian schools – they sent out fake patriotic posters, which stated that Latvia was occupied in 1940s, which is one of the most controversial topics in Latvian society – many Russian speakers celebrate 9th May as Victory day, when Europe was freed from fascism and do not agree with occupation of Latvia being a historical fact.. After that, a fake representative of an NGO “9th of May” called and asked to revoke the posters, which some of the schools did. These schools were then named and directors asked to explain their actions on the TV. This illustrates the situation in which schools have found themselves in – anything they do can be publicly criticised and many political actors try (and sometimes succeed) to influence their decisions. 

Another current problem in public discourse is usage of different textbooks that have been printed in Russia in minority schools. It is impossible to find out how history is being taught in minority schools, as when Ministry officials or researchers appear in classes, they often become a show. Still, Russian speaking students’ knowledge about Latvian history does not seem to be that different from Latvian students.

It is important to understand a reason, why different textbooks are used in some minority schools. One part of this problem could be the fact that history is being taught from a nationalistic point of view, which excludes other nationalities. History teaching in minority schools is understood as a tool of integration, where all the students must learn the same set of facts, same interpretations.  Necessity to try to make a monolith society through education is connected to the reality, where Latvians and Russians live in different information spheres. This is a questionable approach in a democratic society; forgetting that every student has his own information channels other than school. In addition, family and mass media are channels, which are not always taken into consideration.

Many teachers admit that there is a lack of good literature in Russian that can be given to students in minority schools. There is a vast range of books from Russia, which include a different version of history and Russian embassy and culture centres send these books to the schools for free.

Pressure on patriotic upbringing, but not tolerance and inclusion, quotes that divide society into “us” and “them” and depict “otherness” as something bad for society can be seen throughout everyday political discourse.  For example, I.Čepāne, deputy from a Coalition party “Unity” (“Vienotība”) in her Parliamentary speech noted that: “I am happy that ministry of Culture has agreed to national union and that there is a certain guarantee, that these Latvian values, Latvian identity will be made a priority and that “Unity”’s previous ministers, let’s call them, genetic attempts with slogan “You do not need to be born a Latvian, you can become one!”… this fake continuation of latvianism maybe will now be re-evaluated.”[15] There are cases, when Parliamentarians note that there is a certain list of requirements that non-Latvians have to follow to be included – learning Latvian language, language and having neutral or negative attitudes towards Russia, one has to love and cherish Latvia.  Sometimes diversity of Latvia is shown in a negative light – emphasizing how it has brought over people who have anti-Latvian attitudes, serve Russia, while Latvia is “founded by Latvians” and they have to live according to rules of the titular nation.[16]Parliamentary speaker S.Āboltiņa in her speech for Independence Day stressed that although Latvia is a diverse country with many languages, the one thing that unites everyone living in Latvia, is Latvian language, which is the foundation of identity. [17]


 – History teaching constitutes an integral part of education for democratic citizenship, with sensitivity to the old and new forms of cultural diversity in the context of globalisation and more extensive movement of ideas and people. With this in mind it is important to:

– Raise awareness regarding the great cultural diversity in the society and to increase understanding diverse cultural legacies;

– To maintain good knowledge, of the cultural history of the world’s other regions and civilisations in the general context of globalisation whilst simultaneously maintaining an appropriate focus on national history through teaching it as a separate subject;

– Further develop knowledge and skills needed to establish open, productive intercultural dialogue by enabling students to gain an understanding of the history of others;

– Provide means of objective evaluation and monitoring of /what??/ that is not connected to ever changing political agenda;

– Encourage and increase cooperation by all the stakeholders and institutions that assist in the teaching of history and foster development of joint projects, initiatives, events and reflection between schools, history museums, publishers, audiovisual media, cultural centres, local or regional government cultural departments, NGOs and libraries;

– History textbooks and teaching material should be as diverse and pluralistic as possible and take into account the recent developments of historical research, facilitate access to sources of various origins, stimulate and facilitate debates and be designed by teams closely attuned to cultural diversity and be the subject of careful consultation with authors from different cultural backgrounds;

– As a part of the implementation of this active and interactive methodology, history teaching should be associated with media education to develop critical analysis of the origin and content of images, reports, audiovisual archives, special-interest television broadcasts and the acquisition of capabilities for finding and critically analysing Internet sources;

– An effort should be made, through suitable teaching practice, to foster the acquisition and development of overall awareness of the interdependence of cultures, position one’s own culture in a broader context, identify stereotypes and prejudices, hear and respect other view points and be amenable to dialogue, control one’s emotions and be accepting when other people express theirs;

– Encourage collaboration between schools and other stakeholders of history teaching in the community and arrange joint training courses for teachers of minority and majority schools.

 In Denmark : Jenny Strid

During the last 50 years quite a number of people of another ethnic origin than Danish have arrived in Denmark. They cover various groups of guest labourers in the 1970s, mostly from Turkey, but also immigrants and refugees from war-ridden countries such as former Yugoslavia, Somalia, Iraq, Iran, and Sri Lanka. Immigrants and next generations of immigrants now constitute about 7 % of the Danish population. Therefore some people characterize Denmark as a multicultural society. Denmark is a EU member state and the rules about free movement of labour, capital and goods across borders mean that especially during the last ten years Denmark has received quite a lot of job-seekers from former Eastern European countries, and countries suffering from the economic crisis.(p. 5)

 For many years the media have seen a heated debate whether Denmark was to open its doors so widely to foreigners of other cultural backgrounds. Opponents of this policy argue that the core Danish identity, based on Danish national history, Danish language, religion, and other Danish values are threatened.  There are many spokesmen for actively working against Denmark ending up as a multicultural society. Arguments are often found in history. Supporters of the open-door policy see this as expressing a hostile attitude to foreigners, founded by ‘outmoded’ nationalistic opinions no longer meaningful in modern, internationally oriented Danish society. From this point of view there is a gradual transition between extreme nationalism and intolerance and xenophobia.

 In the Danish media debate since the 1970s tolerance has been about how ethnic Danes were to learn to show tolerance towards immigrant minorities, and this debate is closely connected to an active state approach to integrate the new Danes. It was also a focus point in the teaching of history and social science, and tolerance is a main general goal in the Danish school system. In so far as racism and intolerance are officially criminal acts it is of course difficult to find examples of people going public in speech and writing promoting their discriminatory views.  Even when indiscriminate critique comes up in the media this opposition is usually dressed up by rational arguments referring to taking into consideration Danish uniqueness, history, and legislation. But it could very well be so that opposition and intolerance to minorities in Denmark live hidden in close, more private circles.

 Increasingly in Denmark the debate on ‘neo-Danes’ has been focusing on the existence of a number of intolerant minority groups in the Danish society. There were some episodes around the turn of the years 2012-2013, where Jewish children were reported harassed and in other ways persecuted by Muslim youth in a district of Copenhagen dominated by many neo-Danes of an Islamic origin.

These episodes once more put the issue of intolerance in the centre of the Danish public debate. The attacks on Jewish children were interpreted as signs that the political/religious antagonisms between Palestinians and Israel, rooted in the Middle East conflict, are transferred to a conflict between Jews and Muslims in a country like Denmark, where none of the parties really live in the conflict areas. From an overall perspective the episodes are a demonstration of how perceptions of history are used in many different ways as arguments for actions.

 Findings of the study

 The general aim of Danish history education is to help create self-supporting, democratic and reflective people able to take part actively and consciously in societal debates and decisions on a qualified and democratic basis. This means that if a teacher promotes intolerance or puts forward discriminating, fascist, chauvinist or xenophobic opinions action will be taken by the school management, and pushed to extremes may be the reason for dismissal. (s.10)

 The Danish report shows that a critical, reflective and tolerant attitude in pupils can be developed by combining concrete, central elements of history knowledge with precise and progressive didactical methods aiming at qualifying the pupils’ pre-acquired concepts of history. This demands a lot of the educators, and not least of the decision-makers, if going to be successful.

 The Danish report concludes that if a main goal of history education is to promote tolerance, then the purely teaching and reproduction of history textbook facts is quite problematic. It is important to realize that a competent understanding of history is developed and arises through the methodical communication in class of a variety of materials and media.

There are more reasons for this. Firstly the pupils’ private concepts of history – maybe their very prejudiced concepts of ‘us and them’ – are not challenged and debated methodically during lessons based on reproduction, and secondly the pupils do not gain a critical and reflective insight in how history is used and has been used as indoctrination and legitimization of intolerant actions in many countries and at many times.

A historical, professionally qualified dialogue is vital to promote the reflection necessary to prevent being manipulated by others’ or one’s own unreflected perceptions of history. This is a decisive counterweight against intolerance. The school subject of history has got a big responsibility for educating for democratic citizenship.

 Historical reflection is in Denmark a methodical discipline that i.a. promotes competences of multi-perspectivity. Critical thinking, methodical and multi-perspective ways of teaching , as well as using empathy and narration educate pupils to understand and accept that history can be misused to promote propaganda and intolerance, and be used to counteract intolerance and discrimination.

 Pupils must be made to understand that history is not just something ‘old’ and meaningless, but a very important basis for people’s actions at any time. They have to realize that even though the past is gone, interpretations of history are ever present and very decisive for people’s and societies’ orientation and actions. It is this insight that promotes inter-cultural understanding of political and social events locally, regionally, and globally now as before. In this connection historical, critical thinking is important.

 Minority groups in the lessons may contribute by pointing to new and different perspectives when working with certain historical topics. But the teachers stress that they must be very tolerant and attentive to ‘non- ethnically Danish pupils’ having quite another pre-conception and knowledge of history than Danish pupils. 

 The report shows that history teachers in Denmark do not aim at making sure that pupils are drilled in learning by heart a number of centrally decided historical facts. The Danish teacher role is quite varied – from tutor via team partner to assessor – , and teachers say that their main roles are to awake pupils’ historical curiosity, develop their reflective skills, make them work independently and use multi-perspectivity in dealing with historical materials and topics. This is how pupils learn about historical events, at the same time promoting tolerance and an understanding of the importance of history, and how to use history in various personal and societal connections (report p. 14).

 The Danish examination does not test history-re-production, but history production such as theses, theories, and analytical and synthesis-making competences. 

The examination model reflects the competences and aims that are generally prescribed in the Danish school system. In the gymnasium a collection of sources of about 10 to 12 standard pages are handed out to the student via a draw. The collection consists of written sources, pictures, statistics etc. unknown to the pupil beforehand… At the oral examination the pupil presents a synopsis and shows skills in using critical thinking, constructing relevant historical questions, using relevant historical facts, and attempting discussions and analyses of the material in an independent way. At the pre-15 final examination the same model is used, although at a less ambitious level. So the pupils do not get a mark only based on learning-by-heart reproduction of historical facts, but the mark is based rather on their insight in the use, presentation and argumentation of history.

 Danish recommendations can be summed up in this way :

  1. 1.     Teacher training

It is a precondition for a tolerant history education at all levels at school that the history teachers themselves have a high-quality education. In multicultural societies history education must be founded on empirical, analytical and critically-thinking research results concerning historical knowledge, the (ab-) use of history in public, and the manipulation of history.

The responsibility for the training of teachers lies with the political system, but non-for-profit history teachers’ associations, like the Danish one, are all-important as an element in the continuous updating and development of teachers.

International sharing of innovation and practice, like it happens in the Euroclio forum, can also be of great importance in inspiring and upgrading teachers.

  1. 2.     Materials

It is recommended that educational resources, e.g. textbooks and other types of historical materials are produced in a close collaboration between historians and history educators, well qualified in didactics, to achieve the highest degree of quality. Modern history education must be based on a great variety of materials and sources, not all of them the classical ones for example a traditional ‘history book’. Fiction, literature, film, you-tube cuts, visits to memorial sites, family history, personal tales are all excellent materials that can be used to learn and understand even quite difficult historical problems. But it presupposes qualified teachers. Our suggestion is that a variety of such materials are developed and made usable electronically, just like what is happening in Euroclio’s big project Historiana.

  1. 3.      Curricula and learning aims

History curricula must include a) core elements (central historical areas of knowledge), b) demands for the aims of the historical and social competences of the pupils, and c) clarification of pedagogical and didactic principles. In this connection tolerance can be seen as a central, reflective element of citizenship inside the category b). Tolerance can very well function as a value-based goal and be found in the list of educational aims since tolerance is closely linked to humanism, democracy, human rights, and representative government. As such, tolerance is a central element in educating for citizenship.

The final examination of the students must have the overall aim that the students demonstrate historical competences and methodical thinking, and not only reproduction of the textbook’s words.

  1.  Knowledge of the pupils

In the practical history education the educators’ awareness of their pupils, their cultural backgrounds, their values, and their pre-acquired concepts of history is all-important. Thus the educator must have a clear insight in the memory culture of her various groups of pupils, including possible minority groups. These are important pre-conditions for working with tolerance in concrete groups of pupils especially concerning multicultural societies. So we recommend that interviews, observations and other kinds of research into the background culture of the pupils become an obligatory part of the educational practice of history educators at all school levels. Researchers and teachers could both derive advantage from collaboration.

  1. 5.      Pedagogical methods and didactics

Besides gaining knowledge of core areas of history, history education must also prioritize pupils being trained systematically in ‘the process of learning history’. This means a methodical introduction to how to decode texts and visual/audio sources and to work with historical problems. The purpose of this is to get the pupils to understand how history is created, rendered and used, and the effects of it. Also to make the students aware of how a personal and collective memory culture is linked to and affects the creation of historical identity. We recommend the following:

One approach is centered round working with the synchronous and the diachronous principles. This means that in the teaching process a historical theme is giving perspectives horizontally in a wider geographical context (synchronous) as well as perspectives back and forward in time right up to the present (diachronous).

Another approach is the linking of personal, local and family histories to the ‘big’ histories, national, regional, and global. This invites an inclusion of pupils’ inherent histories, and thereby making these objects for qualified historical discussion and evaluation in the teaching and learning process.

Research has shown that often the histories that are not openly discussed in the classroom -and therefore not open to critical thinking – become ‘dangerous histories’ that may end up developing intolerance and discriminating actions.

The third approach is to use different types of dialogue and communication systematically in the lessons. It should be oral, as well as written and visual types of communication. The competences of dialogue and communication may train the pupils’ insight in how history is presented in different ways in order to manipulate people or to promote tolerance in the world.

So a cognitive and reflective dialogue promotes the scientific i.e. the value neutral approach to historical issues. A narrative, empathic or visual communication promotes the understanding of the deep connection between micro and macro history. That means the realization of everybody being both history-creating and history-created. This calls attention to the fact that all human beings are responsible for the future of small as well as global societies and communities.

In Denmark it has generally been the case that a qualified historical dialogue combined with historical experiences has been pivotal in promoting a democratic, tolerant and committed attitude among pupils. The principle of dialogue is good medicine against ‘historical seduction’ and in that way intolerance.

‘We must not ignore harassment, we have to discuss it. But the way forward is not to expose others to hatred. If this happens the point will be missed. The way forward is dialogue only, and dialogue is actually a very strong tool if used in time’.

(Ikram Sarwar, member of Copenhagen City Council, to a Danish newspaper, 2013)



[1] See Teun A, Van Dijk(2000) Ideologies, Racism, Discourse: Debate on Immigration and Ethnic Issues, in: Jessika ter Wal & Maykel Verkuyten (Eds.), Comparative perspectives on racism. (pp. 91-116). Aldershot etc.: Ashgate.

[3] Cabinet of Ministers (2011), Nacionālās identitātes, pilsoniskās sabiedrības un integrācijas politikas pamatnostādnēs.

[4] The thesis was first articulated at the Lawyers’ Days seminar in 2010, J. Pleps, G. Litvīns (2010), Latvijas tauta, nacionāla valsts un dubultpilsonība. Jurista Vārds, 03.08.2010.

[5] “Kauja par vesture” (Battle for history), Daily newspaper Diena / / http://www.diena.lv/dienas-zurnali/sestdiena/kauja-par-vesturi-13944410 // 28.04.2012

[6] Interviews with M. Zavacká and L. Vörös, 2013.

[7] E.g. A. B. Ebbensgaard (2006): At fortælle tid. Danske gymnasieelevers liv med fortidsrepræsentationer. Ph. D. Odense. Syddansk Universitet.


[9] Interview with M.Zavacká and L. Vörös, 2013

[10] Interview with M.Zavacká and L. Vörös, 2013

[11] Interview with grammar school students, 2013

[12] Interview with grammar school students, 2013

[13]Focusgroupwith students, 5.09.2013

[15]I. Čepāne, Parliamentary debates on 25.10.2011

[16]Forexample, I.Parādnieks, Parliamentary debates on 10.11.2013

[17]S.Āboltiņa, Parliamentary debates on 18.11.2013

Citer ce billet
aggiornamento (2014, 21 février). Danemark, Slovaquie, Lettonie : histoire scolaire en tension. Aggiornamento hist-geo. Consulté le 28 février 2024, à l’adresse https://doi.org/10.58079/atof

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