On 20/21 November the CDRSEE hosted an international conference in Thessaloniki, bringing together 18 academics, 11 educators and 12 representatives of National and Regional institutions to assess, re-enforce and further develop tools for History Education fostering European Integration.
Participants from 15 countries gathered, offering creative ideas for new innovative educational products made in Southeast Europe. Products that will have the capacity to follow the already well established and acknowledged Joint History Project that started off 10 years ago on the initiative of Thessaloniki Citizens.
The conference not only featured key note contributions from distinguished Southeast European experts, notably from Costa Carras and Halil Berktay, but also the views of international academia, teachers from throughout the region and members of the offices of the European Commission and the Regional Cooperation Council. The aim was to include a multitude of committed individuals in the process of bringing history education up to current requirements.
Discussions revealed various challenges in reforming the existing curricula that often are reduced to simply teaching the national storyline, offer little space for discussion in classrooms, but instead still rely on an approach of memorising data. This is not necessarily only rooted in nationalistic political agendas, but also in the fear of politicians to step into the very sensitive topic of history teaching that bears a lot of pitfalls for publicly discrediting yourself, but little opportunity for distinguishing yourself positively. Public opinion, however, is heavily influenced by the media which consequently can play a decisive constructive or destructive role in the reform process.
The conference was a logical step following up on the achievements of the Joint History Project, an initiative that aims at ongoing, informed, significant and realistic change in historical research and education in Southeast Europe.
The JHP has offered to the region an innovative joint approach of comparative and multi-perspective history teaching with four workbooks, which are a compilation of original historical sources around four topics prominent in all South East European Curricula. The materials were created by a diverse team of experts, teachers and scholars from across the region: a writing team of 20 people (a general editor, 5 Workbook editors and 14 contributors) and an evaluation team of 40 teachers. To date, the Workbooks have been produced in 8 languages and almost 1000 teachers were trained in 35 workshops in the whole of Southeast Europe.
This unique education tool was acknowledged in the European Parliament as a valuable contribution to stability in the region and has, according to our assessment, far more capacities, one of them being, fostering the European Integration Process.
The European Integration, process, indeed, is one of the most ambitious tasks on the European agenda, with multifaceted dimensions ranging from the creation of a possible European Identity to defining borders in which the European Union can function. In this aspect it is a central task and our duty to encourage policy makers on a regional level to discuss education concepts that foster acceptance for cultural diversity and tolerance within their societies. Especially in times of crisis which are feeding nationalistic sentiments it is academia and courageous citizens that can defend the societal achievements that stood at the very beginning of the vision to a united Europe.
The conference revealed that while reforms are ongoing in all of the countries, there is much more to be done if we want to catch up with European standards and requirements for modern skills. Memorising knowledge is an outdated methodology, which needs to be replaced by didactics that foster the ability for critical thinking and for multidisciplinary and multi-perspective analysis, while at the same time encourage our students to develop social skills that have the capacity to build bridges and open opportunities.
Given the central geographical position of Thessaloniki, the city is more committed than any other city within the European Union, to the development of the Balkans. It is a place that shares so much history and for the region to truly prosper, the future should be a shared one as well.