According to the latest survey by the Czech School Inspectorate, only less than half of the students in the first years of secondary schools passed tests on modern history. They learn little or nothing about contemporary events. What can teachers do about it?
Guest of a special shoot I am asking on November 17 at Korzo Národní was Roman Göttlicher, a teacher from the Secondary Technical School, Business Academy and Language School in Frýdek-Místek and this year’s winner of the international Global Teacher Prize competition for the most inspiring teachers.
According to a recent finding by the Czech School Inspectorate (ČŠI), modern history is not sufficiently taught in Czech schools. About 70 percent of children said that history helps them understand what is happening in the world. Therefore, they would like more time to study. At the same time, up to two thirds of pedagogues do not teach about the latest history and contemporary problems.
Until now, the History+ project sponsored by experts from the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes and the National Pedagogical Institute has helped to improve it. But it ends this year.
“Each era had, has, will have its challenges. And that makes it all the more important for us as teachers to have quality support, to network, to create some professional learning communities. Because I need support, I need inspiration, I need sharing, and everything is easier with this,” Roman Göttlicher commented on the situation in education.
The school inspectorate drew attention to the dismal state of contemporary history teaching at a time when Czech schools are facing, among other things, a reduction in the number of hours taught as a result of planned cuts. The Ministry of Education is planning to lower the ceiling of unlearned hours that will be reimbursed to principals. In practice, this could mean fewer seminars, split classes, teaching second foreign languages or less time for gifted students. Alternatively, less time to prepare for entrance exams and matriculation exams.
What is the best way to teach about our history today? What is the history of today’s children interested in? And is our education system really that bad?
You can play the entire interview in an audio player, in your favorite podcast app or in a video.
What was said in the conversation?
1:00 How did you get the students excited now when you talked to them about the anniversary of November 17, or when you talk to them about the November events that we were remembering now? – Whatever topic I teach, including the topic of November 17, 1989, I try not to give them the information by lecturing them and they should learn to memorize it and then interpret it. But I try to get them to think about the subject. Specifically, for example, we have built such a research lesson called What the Velvet Revolution meant for people, we will take some memories of witnesses, for example from a photograph of the time, and together we will think about what it probably meant for the people of that time. Because it’s old enough for students.
3:00 So you start with a question that you give them to think about, which is part of your inquiry approach to teaching history that you love so much? – Exactly. The research question is very important, because if we ask a good question at the beginning that interests the students, that is the first assumption that they will start thinking about the matter. The second assumption, I think no less important, is that if it is a topic that touches the pupils in some way, they are automatically closer to it, they start to think about it, they start to bring some of their own views. So if we achieve that it somehow interests them and that they feel that it concerns them in some way, then we have half won.
5:00 It is often said that modern history is taught badly or not enough in Czech schools. There is no time for that, teachers don’t want to get into it because it’s a live topic. During your practice, how often have you encountered the fact that the parents of your students and pupils contradicted the way you teach them modern history? – So far, it hasn’t happened to me that my parents have told me that I’m teaching nonsense or that I’m saying it wrong. Maybe it’s also because I don’t want to give any eternal truths, it’s the way it is and you have to say it exactly like this. I want us to think about these things. There is room for discussion, and the fact that, for example, pupils have, and often have, very different views from their families, for example on the period of communism, the Velvet Revolution or the period of the 1990s, so I try to take it that this is actually wealth , from which we can draw. That we can learn to debate, we can learn to ask questions, to argue, not to be angry with each other when we have really opposing opinions. And trying to find, for example, an answer to why we all see it differently.
Roman Göttlicher is a history and civics teacher from the Secondary Technical School, Business Academy and Language School in Frýdek-Místek.
In June of this year, he received the prize for 1st place for inspirational teachers of primary and secondary schools called the Global Teacher Prize Czech Republic. The sixth year of the poll was organized by the EDUin organization.
In his classes, in which, according to the judges, he is able to appeal even to those who are not close to history and social sciences, Göttlicher uses the so-called activity-based teaching methods with the help of modern technologies. Among other things, he works as the coordinator of the Dějepis+ project, the aim of which is to transform the teaching of history. In addition to teaching high school students, he also works as an educational consultant and is further educated in psychotherapy and counseling.
7:00 According to a survey by the Czech School Inspectorate, only less than half of the pupils in the first years of secondary schools passed the modern history test, from which the Czech School Inspectorate concludes, among other things, that modern history is taught poorly. And I was very interested in one of your answers, when you already responded to this topic in other media and said that it is an old well-known fact that surveys of pupils’ knowledge have been similarly bad for 100 years. – Exactly. In other words, it never went well. In any country, already in America at the beginning of the twentieth century, there were always big headlines in the newspapers about how poorly students knew even the most basic things about the history of their own country. So on the one hand, I think it’s not terrible news, the way it turned out. And then it’s also good to think about what such questionnaires actually evaluate. Because let’s face it, knowing the answer to the question, when did November 17, the Velvet Revolution, take place? And someone answers 1989. What does that actually tell me? I think it is much more important if there is some meaning around it, if the pupils can tell you. This is much more difficult to translate into some questionnaires.
8:30 So is history taught poorly in the Czech Republic? – I think it keeps getting better and better, because there were and are a lot of amazing projects that help teachers to learn, change their teaching, provide quality material, whether it was the History+ project that worked for the previous two years. Hopefully, some other project will follow up on this, which will develop precisely the networking of teachers and the teaching of teachers to the new good techniques, learning methods.
9:00 a.m. As a promoter of the research method, what were the most interesting questions you asked your students? – In general, I really like the problem of totality, because it usually interests the students and makes them take, for example, an ethical position, it is actually often some kind of ethical problem, why those people behaved this way and others behaved differently, how would I did i breed Those are the questions that I think have a huge impact. – And what question really regularly evokes great reactions, great emotions? – One of the most heated debates is always about the lesson we have about the Second World War and specifically what were the people who participated in the extermination of the Jews? We are actually looking at the fates of certain groups of the German police who participated in the extermination of the Jews. And we follow their fates. We are trying to answer the question of what they were, because sometimes we have the idea that they were some kind of madmen, psychopaths, and that was not the case, as it usually was.
11:00 How does this teaching method of yours, which sounds great, go together with the fact that students know what they need to take entrance exams for universities or high schools? – Sometimes it is quite a problem, we are often in such a slightly schizophrenic situation that, on the one hand, we want to develop certain competencies, and on the other hand, often, when testing, we only go for hard facts. But on the other hand, I think that inquiry teaching is not at all opposed to some learning of facts. Because, after all, from the perspective of cognitive psychology, a person remembers best what they think about. I always give an example: there are students who can’t speak English well, have dyslexia, for example, and just float through school, but when they are interested in some collectible card games like Magic or Pokemon, they are able to just talk about thousands of cards. – So you thought, if they learn the flashcards, why wouldn’t they learn this? – Exactly, they just never learned to think about it. So it works.
13:00 Why don’t you want to teach at grammar schools, why did you choose this path? – On the one hand, definitely because I joined the school, where I knew the principal and some of the teachers, and I saw that the school is amazing in what it does with students, how it helps them develop in all aspects, what it does for projects. And of course, it’s not a school you go to to study history. – Is it an advantage or a disadvantage? – I try to make an advantage out of it, because on the one hand there is no such pressure if we don’t discuss this and that, but on the other hand I have a greater opportunity to work on those competencies, on historical thinking, critical thinking.
15:00 Even modern history can be taught badly. It does not automatically mean that learning modern history is a good thing. The main thing we would like to pursue is precisely the development of historical thinking. Since modern history plays the biggest role in how the current world looks, we should definitely pay the main attention to it. But many of these phenomena still have their roots in the past, so it makes sense to take the older histories as well. And after all, it’s also a good way to cultivate historical awareness.
16:00 When people talk about teaching modern history in the public space, I dare say that a large part of people consider it to be history up to 1989, but then some surveys show that pupils miss modern history, the 1990s, they mean just the events around the year 2000. So, how well do you manage to learn this period? – This is quite a problem for several reasons. History needs some distance, maybe at least 30 years, so it’s a very new time. And for teachers, the main problem is that in order for me to teach a topic well, I need to have it sorted out in my head, I need to have quality resources. If it is something too fresh, it is very elusive, difficult for the teacher.
17:00 How does the most inspiring teacher of the year evaluate current Czech education? I’ll add your story to it, because it’s not quite common, you don’t have a twenty-five-year career as a teacher. You taught for about a year, but then you stopped enjoying it, or you felt exhausted, burned out after that year. You bought a gym and ran the business as a gym owner for 12 years and only returned to teaching five years ago. – That’s right, and I’m very glad that I left education, I gathered experience somewhere else, because it was during those 12 years that I did psychotherapy training, which I’m benefiting from now. I think that Czech education is going in the right direction, it’s going slowly, it’s getting stiff, because it’s a huge institution, it’s a big colossus, but I’m very happy to see how many wonderful, inspiring people there are in Czech education, who are trying to do good things . So let’s hope it continues despite some of the upcoming savings.
19:00 We often hear that Czech children still learn poorly in schools, that they do not learn enough for the twenty-first century, that they will have a problem later when artificial intelligence and related processes start to be used more in society, that English is poorly taught and so on. How true is this? – Certainly everything you mention are problems and they are challenges. But I think that every era had, has, will have its challenges. And that makes it all the more important for us as teachers to have quality support, to network, to create some professional learning communities. Because I need support, I need inspiration, I need sharing, and everything is easier with this. That time is developing very quickly and, after all, we can work out some kind of strategy for the use of artificial intelligence in schools, for example, but what will happen in five years, it moves forward so quickly that it is difficult to know.
I am asking, Marie Bastlová
Podcast Marie Bastlova. Hard talk interviews with people who have influence, responsibility, information.
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