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Multi-Year Work Plan: Education Research Report Executive Summary

Multi-Year Work Plan: Education Research Report
Executive Summary


1. Background

Teaching and learning about the Holocaust (TLH) has undergone significant changes since the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) was founded in 1998. While TLH was originally initiated mainly by civil society, governments have increasingly committed to this endeavor: they have contracted international obligations and devoted resources to implementing nationwide policies, and international and national government- led initiatives have also emerged. At the same time, the field of TLH research has developed. Nonetheless, communication between TLH initiatives and TLH research is not robust. And a significant gap obtains between research and practice. This project identifies and summarizes research studies dealing with TLH. Its three goals are to map research initiatives in the area of TLH; analyze the state of research; and foster exchange and dialogue among diverse stakeholders, ranging from policymakers to researchers and educators. During the two-year span of this project, the research team collected some 635 publications, which represent 375 studies in fifteen languages. The research team reviewed 100 studies in English; eighty-four in German; fifty in Hebrew; forty in Polish; thirty-four in French; twenty-eight in Nordic languages; nineteen in Spanish/Italian/Portuguese; and fifteen in Russian/ Belarusian/Ukrainian, some of which also concern Moldova and the Baltic States.

2. Main General Findings

1. The IHRA’s Education Research Report highlights that TLH in the different surveyed language areas is diverse with regard to practice, policy and pedagogy, due to a number of factors: the national context in which research is embedded, the politics of memory, the role of the Holocaust in national political narratives, the extent and nature of empirical research and the funding situation and opportunities for scholars. In some places, normative and advocacy literature, accounts of personal experiences and descriptive studies dominate, while in others numerous diverse qualitative and quantitative studies have been conducted.

2. Although TLH is diverse in terms of methodology, assumptions and experience, TLH research appears to develop in general stages in each given context. During the first stage, TLH research consists mainly of normative literature (why and how the Holocaust should be taught) and personal accounts of educators’ own practices. Qualitative, often exploratory studies and analyses of educational materials are generally conducted in the second phase. In the third phase, researchers undertake quantitative studies.

3. Overall, TLH is a growing and maturing field, as evidenced by the increasing volume of research on TLH and the rising number of young scholars devoted to TLH. Thus, the TLH research field is poised for
further professionalization, which can best be achieved through reflection on its assumptions and methods.

4. Although there is no single definition of the Holocaust or of TLH across IHRA Member Countries, there is a consensus that TLH is crucial. But there are diverse approaches to “why, what and how to teach,”
and, consequently, to research in this field, i.e. how to measure or conceptualize the results of TLH.

5. The research attests that TLH is perceived by both teachers and students as a field that is qualitatively different from others, as it includes powerful emotions as well as historical knowledge, thinking and
understanding. A shared assumption prevails among teachers and students that TLH contributes to moral education and ethical development. Thus, its field of application is broader than other areas and bears a complexity and expectations particular to it alone.

6. Some studies provide baseline knowledge about curricula and textbooks for a given country or countries, but much less about how they are implemented and used in the classroom in diverse contexts.

7. Many studies offer profound insights about specific local cases, but these studies do not necessarily adduce broad evidence or information to validate these insights beyond the local case.

8. A number of factors impede the establishment of a mature research field:

- While the disciplinary background of researchers (for example, historians, sociologists and education scholars) shapes a range of approaches to TLH, there is little dialogue between them.
– Language barriers prevent exchange of information and experience.
– The definition and goals of TLH are often implicit and untested.
– There are strong disparities in experience among the surveyed language contexts, reflecting the history, culture and social fabric of each.
– Only a few quantitative surveys have been conducted providing comprehensive, comparable and consistent data.

Findings about Students and Learning

1. Students show a high level of interest in learning about the Holocaust.

2. Research cannot be conclusive about the effect of TLH in general on students’ level of knowledge or on their attitudes because TLH itself is so diverse.

3. A number of studies have linked different forms of TLH to the civic and moral development of students, but these are often time-intensive model programs rather than part of usual school lessons, and they are not generalizable.

4. There is no conclusive evidence about the approaches that best enable TLH to address antisemitic and other racist attitudes and beliefs effectively.

Findings about Teachers and Teaching

1. Educators teaching about the Holocaust come from diverse backgrounds. They are united by a high level of interest in the topic, a strong personal commitment to the issue and a desire for more training.
2. They feel insufficiently prepared to teach about the Holocaust and are unaware of existing resources.
3. Overall, their skills, knowledge and needs are under-researched.

Findings about Study Trips, Visits to Memorials and Museums and Encounter Programs

There is no evidence that study trips and visits to Holocaust-related memorials and museums are more effective than other forms of teaching, and no conclusive evidence of a positive correlation between experience during the study trip and learning, unless students are carefully prepared beforehand and careful reflections and debriefings are conducted after the trip.

There is some evidence that intergroup encounters in the field of TLH can contribute to increased mutual understanding between groups, under the condition of solid preparation and careful follow-up and debriefing.

Recommendations to Different Stakeholders

The IHRA’s Education Research Project shows the significant empirical research and data collection that have been undertaken in many countries, and the progress in theory building that has been made. It also points to the regional diversity and heterogeneity of approaches, methods, contexts and results. These observations suggest that local, regional and international forums have to be created or reinforced to discuss results and their implications for both the formulation and implementation of TLH policies.

Recommendations to Educational Policymakers

1. Allocate funds to support research in TLH. Allow access to schools for qualitative or quantitative research projects, especially focusing on the implementation of programs in the classroom.
2. Allocate funds to conduct an independent evaluation of specific TLH projects, both in schools and in extracurricular projects.
3. Introduce a national strategy to study the determinants of success and failure of TLH.
4. Charged expectations prevail as to what the purpose and the impact of TLH should be: civic education, prejudice reduction, embracing diversity and fostering a culture of pluralism and democracy. Policymakers
should encourage discussion with stakeholders (researchers, educators) to jointly identify and define reasonable goals, without overloading TLH with overblown expectations.
5. Support the dissemination and discussion of results and ensure that the results are used for evidence-based policymaking.
6. Endorse a dialogue with all social agents involved in empirical studies on TLH to support their separate efforts, coordinate the studies at a higher level and create synergies.
7. Apply empirical research results to content and methodology in the curriculum-planning process.

Recommendations to University Departments, Teacher-Training Institutions
and Research-Funding Organizations


1. Build the capacity of researchers.
2. Develop research tools.
3. Encourage interdisciplinary work.
4. Reinforce research and development in the field of teaching tools and resources for teachers and reinforce access to existing tools and resources.
5. National and international research programs, including European programs, should encourage data collection in the field of TLH by independent researchers. The results should be published and made
accessible to policymakers and educators.
6. Support and build research capacity in under-studied educational contexts.
7. Encourage cooperation with state institutions and NGOs to conduct empirical studies on their TLH programs and projects.

Recommendations to Funding Organizations

1. Encourage NGOs to cooperate with researchers conducting empirical studies to evaluate TLH programs and projects.
2. Support empirical research that will ultimately empower teachers in the classroom.

Recommendations to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance

1. Establish research on TLH as a priority of the organization, including follow-up on the results of this report with discussions to develop concrete objectives for all stakeholders.
2. Facilitate access to research results and organize exchange between researchers across language barriers.
3. Support the development of and access to instruments for research (methods, standards and tools) that are free and multilingual, and build the capacity of researchers/research institutions to use these
tools to further professionalize the TLH field.
4. Provide a space for educators and researchers at the regional, national and international level to further discussions about the methodological foundations of TLH.
5. Form a network of institutions and structures to initiate further empirical studies on TLH that can help prioritize long-term effective action and build cross-language cooperation.