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The George and Irina Schaeffer Center for the Study of Genocide, Human Rights and Conflict Prevention

Figuring Memory: Rebecca Hale on Holocaust Education Programs

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Rebecca Hale

On Tuesday, October 19, 2021, the George and Irina Schaeffer Center for the Study of Genocide, Human Rights and Conflict Prevention hosted the first in its new series of monthly seminars, titled “Figuring Memory.” The online event was organized in collaboration with Sarah Gensburger and Sandrine Lefranc at France’s national scientific research center, CNRS. Rebecca Hale, a senior research fellow at the UCL Centre for Holocaust Education, was invited to speak on the subject of “Social Practices and Collective Transformation.”

Rebecca Hale’s presentation, entitled “Challenges and Considerations Involved in Evaluating the Impact of Holocaust Education Programs,” focused on the complexities and significance of her research on the impact of Holocaust studies on young people in England aged 11 to 14 years. The Centre for Holocaust Education began this research in 2009, after noting that the impacts of England’s Holocaust education mandate were not being sufficiently studied. In 1991, the UK government changed the National Curriculum, lowering the age at which history stopped being a mandatory subject and, in the process, mandating that the Holocaust be taught to students of a younger age. When implementing national Holocaust education there was much debate about where the emphasis should be placed. Two main perspectives emerged; the first argued that Holocaust education should focus on students’ historical understanding of the tragedy, while the second argued that it should rather be related to social, moral and civic outcomes.

During the study, the Centre for Holocaust Education used a combination of randomized control trials (RCTs) and implementation and process evaluation (IPEs) to gain a better understanding of how Holocaust education was affecting students. This mixed-method approach allowed researchers to gather broad baseline data, while also trying to understand the individual experiences and emotions of students. Hale emphasized that such methodologies come with their own complexities. “When you look at moral and attitudinal outcomes, it is hard to develop standardized questions for such complex, unique things,” explained Hale. “We know teaching about the Holocaust is having an impact, but we lack the full understanding of exactly what that impact is.”

The center has been adapting its approach over the years, taking into consideration what students already know, think and believe about the Holocaust, to try to understand the program’s more gradual long-term impacts. “What else can Holocaust education and programs do?” asked Hale. “What can we as educators and researchers do to have an impact on students?” Following her presentation, Hale answered questions from the audience on topics such as the original reasons for the creation of the Centre for Holocaust Education and the ways in which the Holocaust is taught differently to other subjects in history classes. You can watch a recording of her presentation and Q&A session below.

Significant contributions to this news piece were made by AUP student and Schaeffer Fellow, Michael Justice.