An issue of pedagogy

2nd April 2010 at 01:00

The recent simulation activity on the Holocaust at St Hilary's Primary in East Kilbride, which reportedly had P7 pupils in tears, has raised a number of issues.

The first concerns the appropriateness of teaching the Holocaust in the primary sector. This is supported by organisations such as the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, the Anne Frank Trust and the Holocaust Educational Trust. Each has produced educational materials and exhibitions for pupils in this age range.

Furthermore, at this year's national Holocaust Memorial Day event in London, it was a group of South Lanarkshire pupils from Woodside Primary who poignantly discussed on film what they had learned about the Holocaust and their legacy of hope for the future. Hence teachers, pupils and parents should be confident that the Holocaust can be taught effectively to primary pupils.

One difficulty, however, is that teaching controversial areas, such as the Holocaust, genocide and the abuse of children's rights, does upset pupils.

Role play can be used to develop empathy. There are those who argue that using simulation is an issue of pedagogy not principle and that, if conducted appropriately with care and thought, it can be very powerful.

The key point, in relation to the St Hilary's case, is that, while the local authority is keen on Holocaust education and the teachers undertook the simulation for the best of reasons, the pedagogical issues were not fully explored beforehand. But we should not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

The Holocaust Education Development Programme in England is planning an organised programme for secondary teachers to develop their skills in teaching the Holocaust. This would make a valuable contribution to the continuing professional development of all teachers.

Henry Maitles, University of Strathclyde and Paula Cowan, University of the West of Scotland.

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