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Price of pace of change

The history textbooks were the first to be consigned to the dustbin when Slovakia escaped the Soviet yoke, but six years later the country is still struggling to provide a new curriculum and implement reforms.

Dr Jan Huttov , a teacher at Gymnazium Jura Hronca, Bratislava, said: "One challenge has been to devise a curriculum which balances knowledge, skills and attitudes and allows for flexibility and individual variation while ensuring certain minimum standards.

"A bigger challenge has been finding room for many important topics since the ministry for education mandates only two-and-a-half years of history for secondary schools and even less for technical and trade schools. We have attempted to secure more time but are stymied by the ministry."

Four years after the Velvet Revolution, Czechoslavakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The fortunes of Slovakia have not been as prosperous since the division. Unemployment has risen, the currency depreciated and the government has lurched from one crisis to another.

One consequence of this is lack of money to pay for new textbooks and teaching materials. Primary and secondary schools have temporary teaching materials for the 19th and 20th centuries which were published immediately after 1989. The old books are still in use for teaching history before 1780. The lack of a revised history curriculum for secondary schools also makes it difficult to prepare textbooks.

Before 1989, said Dr Huttov , history teaching amounted to a Marxist interpretation of the past with emphasis on communist heroes. "The aim now is to develop and implement a new and democratic conception of history teaching. The former method falsely claimed that only one authentic version of history existed and thus what was written in the textbooks was true. It is extremely important to teach students that there are differing versions of and opinions about a certain event and to help them develop a critical awareness of the written, oral and visual materials they encounter.

"This is even more difficult because of the lack of textbooks and other teaching materials."

Another problem is the quality of history teaching staff. A high percentage are unqualified or have specialised in subjects other than history, and there has been very little guidance on curriculum change.

This situation is possibly exacerbated by the fact that pre-1989 many history teachers were either secret police or close to the Communist party.

"It is essential for the National Pedagogical Institute and the ministry of education to improve both initial and in-service training for history teachers at universities and methodological centres," said Dr Huttov .

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