We’re all history
2022-03-07 | By ACCESS Magazine Editorial Team
History is just history, right? It’s just a list of things that happened, surely? We all remember history lessons from school–learning the kings and queens, the revolutions, the presidents, the battles and the treaty dates. But has the way history been taught in schools changed? And importantly for internationals in the Netherlands, how is Dutch history taught in schools? And is Dutch history even taught in international schools here?
“Historical knowledge has an influence on people in shaping the present and also the future,” says teacher at Nord Anglia International School Rotterdam (NAISR) Gül Uyar. “Learners are expected to analyse and think, but also to form their own opinions–with strong arguments–that will influence the path of their life.”
Recent public debate over how colonialism, slavery, and women are portrayed in world, and local, history has altered the way history is thought about on many levels. Has this been reflected in Dutch and international schools?
Miguel Heilbron, co-founder of The Black Archives, a collection of books, archives and artefacts representing black and ‘other marginalised’ perspectives on the past, told DutchNews.nl in 2019, “not only in the Netherlands, there’s often a dominant perspective, often a ‘Western’ perspective.”
“This is something we want to confront and challenge,” he added. “When we only know one perspective, this can be problematic. There are so many others that are relevant to know if you want to understand our society but also the world today.”
“We have to respond to the necessary changes in our society,” says Uyar. “And we want to make sure that students can put themselves in the situation and not just learn the factual knowledge–such as years and important events or famous people. History is lived and recorded by people. We can use this life experience to set our own learning goals in forming and taking the responsibility for our own development.”
Perhaps it is simply a case of education establishments needing to catch up with current thinking. Which it is. Researchers for Historisch Nieuwsblad magazine in 2020 found that, for example, while men outnumber women in Dutch school history books ten to one, “most history methods are well formulated and modern,” and “recent public debates have been given more space in school books.”
Out of the canon
Created in 2006, and widely taught in Dutch primary and secondary schools, the first Dutch Canon of History was comprised of fifty ‘windows’ into the past, each of them housing notable events, people, and concepts. In 2019 it was updated–after a year of revision–to represent “more women and more diversity, less ‘Holland’ and more of the provinces.” The Canon supports the Dutch education system, by expanding historical knowledge and insight among students. The aim is to revise it again after ten years.
International schools in the Netherlands take a slightly different approach. History lessons are integrated into the educational themes and enrich the content. “Learners are supported to explore the content from multiple perspectives. The international mindedness and understanding of a culture becomes meaningful,” says Uyar.
At the British School in the Netherlands (BSN), according to their curriculum guide, history “lessons will also develop students’ understanding of historical concepts such as cause and consequence, change and continuity, and the significance of events. History lessons will encourage students to consider the impact of historical events on the present day.” Their history curriculum–like most international schools in the Netherlands–focuses on western European history.
While in Dutch schools in the Netherlands the educational content is determined by the government, international schools tend to reflect the needs of their international students. Often families will only stay in the country for a few years before moving on, so curricula tend to mirror a more ‘international perspective’. International schools often offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme– an international qualification recognised around the world, based on the notion of studying a broader range of subjects. History within this has a more international flavour.
Dutch schools follow the Canon for history lessons. For students of international families who are settling in the Netherlands for longer, this might hold more interest. After all, it is perhaps important for young people growing up and developing in a country to know and understand more about its history.
The way history is thought about and taught is developing and reflects current thinking, in both international and Dutch schools. “We try to offer the knowledge in its entirety,” says Uyar, “and have it further enriched by discussions and recent research.” While there will always be dates and names to learn, it is positive and affirming to see that the context of history, and everyone who was involved in it, is gaining more importance.