The ODIHR tackles anti-Semitism with innovative education materials
Incidents of anti-Semitism - physical and verbal attacks against Jews, or vandalism of Jewish property, cemeteries and synagogues - are still common occurrences in the OSCE region, despite Europe's long and shameful history of anti-Semitism. Through education, the issue can be tackled in schools before prejudices take root.
In partnership with the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and national education experts from seven OSCE countries, the ODIHR has developed a series of teaching materials for schools. The project is being piloted in Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland and Ukraine, with Russia, Spain and Turkey expected to take part next year.
The teaching materials consist of a series of three booklets about the history of anti-Semitism, contemporary forms of anti-Semitism, and anti-Semitism as one of many forms of discrimination.
The booklets provide historical information, but also ask students to reflect on their own experiences, and include a series of exercises.
A flexible approach
The materials are innovative in a number of ways. Firstly, recognizing the huge differences in the way education is organized in different parts of the OSCE region, they have been designed to fit equally well into a range of courses, from conventional history to civic education.
The booklets have also been adapted for each country so that the examples and experiences used directly relate to the country in question.
For example, the Lithuanian version looks at the pre-Second World War history of Vilnius as an important Jewish religious centre, and discusses places connected to Jewish history and culture that still exist in Vilnius today.
"One of the strongest points of the material is that the general history section also tells the story of ordinary people," commented a Dutch teacher who tried out the teaching materials during the pilot phase. "This is what students find interesting."
The project is being implemented through a series of teacher-training sessions, usually in co-operation with the relevant national ministry of education. The first teacher-training course took place in the Netherlands in April, and sessions are planned for more than 700 teachers in Ukraine beginning in autumn of this year. Germany will follow shortly afterwards.
From commitment to implementation
"The OSCE states committed themselves to promoting education to combat anti-Semitism in 2004," says Kathrin Meyer, ODIHR Adviser on Anti-Semitism. "Now in 2007, we are seeing their words become reality in schools in increasing numbers of OSCE states. Some of the countries we are working with are even considering incorporating the teaching materials into their core compulsory curriculum."
Will the new booklets have the desired effect? Changing attitudes is a slow process, and education is only one of many forms of action that can help to tackle discrimination, but encouraging young people to think about it is a step in the right direction.
"I had hardly ever heard about prejudices against Jews, but sometimes you do hear name calling, such as 'greedy Jew', in the street," said one student from the Netherlands. "The next time something like that happens, I hope I have the courage to speak out."