Holocaust to be included in national core curriculum for basic education
”Other countries do not believe that Finnish schools teach pupils about the genocide of Jews.”
By Marjukka Liiten
In the current summer, the curricula for Finnish basic and general upper secondary education were amended by adding to them special mentions of massive human rights violations, including the extermination of Jews by Nazi Germany.
The mandatory regulation imposed by the Finnish National Board of Education (FNBE) entered into force at the beginning of August.
The Holocaust is now mentioned separately in the otherwise rather general lists of contents for instruction in ethics and philosophy of life, history, and philosophy.
It is unusual that the contents of curricula are amended suddenly in this fashion, as normally they are revised every ten years or so.
The underlying factor behind the exceptional move is Finland’s wish to become a full member in the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research (ITF).
The Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Education, and the FNBE have all been preparing amendments to the national curricula for the past couple of years.
”While it is true that the facts about the Holocaust were taught in Finnish schools and course books already in the 1950s, many countries - particularly Israel - do not seem to want to believe it”, says Foreign Advisor Sauli Feodorow from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
”When travelling abroad, one frequently comes up against allegations that Finland would even have been one of those countries helping to implement the genocide”, Feodorow argues.
According to Feodorow, it is therefore sensible to join the ITF as soon as possible. One of the conditions for joining the Task Force is that the national core curriculum will have to state what exactly is being taught in schools about the Holocaust.
”This is no political question”, Feodorow says, denying that there would be any outside pressure.
Finnish teachers have already tried to figure out what singular issues or events will next be added to the core curricula, which have usually been on a rather general level.
”This cannot be compared with any other event in world history - with the exception of the Atom Bomb perhaps”, Feodorow defends the direction to mention the Holocaust separately in the curriculum.
Director-General Sakari Karjalainen of the Ministry of Education and Culture as well as Director General of the FNBE Timo Lankinen are both thinking along the same lines as Feodorow.
”We just quite voluntarily wish to cooperate with international organisations. Besides, there were grounds for checking the instructions on how to teach issues relating to human rights”, Karjalainen charges.
”We regarded this as a major question that could not wait until the school year 2014/2015, when the curricula will next be revamped”, says Lankinen.
The Finnish National Board of Education has already employed a philosopher to collect material relating to the Holocaust to upload to the internet. There are also plans to send 30 teachers to Jerusalem to receive further instruction in the Holocaust question.
”Quite certainly all history teachers already now tell their pupils about the Holocaust even without any separate instructions”, comments Riitta Mikkola, the Chair of the Association for Teachers of History and Social Studies in Finland.
”Unlike many other countries, Finland is not such a control society and here teachers have always been trusted”, says Mikkola. She is critical of such detailed instructions and guidance, pointing out that other genocides have also occurred.
”The directions do sound like politics and lobbying, no doubt about that”, notes Ukri Pulliainen, the Chairman of the Finnish Association for Teachers of Philosophy and Philosophy of Life.
In their own discussion forums, teachers have voiced pointed criticism against the new directions while at the same time, something positive has also been seen in them: human ethics deserve to be given greater emphasis in the classroom.
FACTFILE: The ITF has 27 member states
The Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research (ITF) was initiated by Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson in Stockholm in 1998.
Members of the Task Force must be commited to the implementation of national policies and programmes in support of Holocaust education, remembrance, and research.
The Task Force encourages appropriate forms of Holocaust remembrance. The governments comprising the Task Force agree on the importance of opening all archives relating to the mass destruction of Jews and of making them more widely accessible to all researchers. The Task Force also encourages its member-states to organise programmes in Holocaust education for schools and universities.
The Task Force currently has 27 member-states. Since 2008, the Task Force has had a formal liaison relationship with Finland, which is now applying for full membership. The process will take a couple of years.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 14.8.2010
Previously in HS International Edition:
Holocaust victims remembered in Helsinki - three survivors among guests of honour (28.1.2005)
Lest we forget... Auschwitz +60 (25.1.2005)
The Holocaust (Wikipedia)
Persecution of Jews (Wikipedia)
Finnish National Board of Education
The Association for Teachers of History and Social Studies in Finland
MARJUKKA LIITEN / Helsingin Sanomat