Education is taken seriously, but experts warn of ‘troubling’ gaps
THE GOVERNMENT’S pledge earlier this year of £50 million towards a new Holocaust memorial and learning centre shows how seriously remembrance of the Shoah is now taken in Britain.
Over the past 30 years the subject has moved from the margins of national life, largely thanks to an annual memorial day and space on the national curriculum.
But what do children actually know? This week’s comprehensive 270-page report from the CHE sheds unprecedented light on the grasp of the subject within English secondary schools.
On the positive front, the researchers found that “overwhelmingly” students recognised the term “the Holocaust”, and the majority most clearly associated it with the persecution and mass murder of the Jews.
Most appeared to place “great value” on learning about it and expressed “high levels of interest” in engaging with the subject.
But the research also exposed significant gaps in their knowledge.
Paul Salmons, CHE programme director, said that what shocked him most was that more than two-thirds could not explain what antisemitism was.
“If you don’t know what the word means, how can you begin to have understanding?” he said.
The ignorance of the figure of six million Jewish victims was “troubling”, the report said. One in five of those in the 15 to 18 age group thought that the number of Jews murdered was one to two million. Just over 53 per cent of the overall sample correctly identified the figure as six million.
Some were hazy about other basic historical details. “The Holocaust was what started the Second World War,” said one Year 7 pupil. The Holocaust was when Jews were killed “for being black”, believed another.
The impact of visits by survivors was apparent. Nearly half reported that they had heard a talk by a survivor. One sixthformer said: “You kind of don’t believe it until you actually hear a first-hand view of what happened there.”