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Seminar on Historical Thinking Concepts, Sri Lanka, 20 and 21 May

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April 2024 we had the pleasure of being invited once again to Sri Lanka by Euroclio to be part of a teacher training programme in Bandarawela. Part of Euroclio’s ongoing Histories that Connect project, this seminar was organized in association with Colombo-based Collective for Historical Dialogue and Memory (CHDM) and the Strengthening Social Cohesion and Peace in Sri Lanka (SCOPE) programme of the German development agency GIZ. Over two days, history teacher and EuroClio trainer Bridget Martin (International School of Paris) and Meena Malhotra (Director, History for Peace) co-facilitated workshops on recognising biases and questioning in the history classroom for a group of 21 history educators from all across the island of Sri Lanka.


Building on what we had covered at the training in Jaffna in 2023, we emphasised the importance of recognising deep-rooted mindsets and the role of questioning in this process. Breaking down concepts of implicit bias and confirmation bias using examples from Indian textbooks and popular narrative in the country we illustrated through activities how this connects to concepts of historical thinking. Why is it important to integrate questions that promote historical thinking? This was the core issue we focussed on.




Historical thinking, and critical thinking skills more broadly, give students important skills for other avenues of life. For example, evaluating different sources of information, considering different perspectives and grappling with the connections between past and present. Even when students have to complete a memory-based exam, historical thinking has benefits. Cognitive scientist David Willingham has shown that students will have better recall of topics they have thought deeply about compared with facts that have no meaning to them. It helps students connect the present to the past.


Developing these skills have a direct connection to recognising implicit, explicit, unconscious and  confirmation biases which in turn have a significant personal, political and societal impact. For teachers and educators particularly this is a skill that has huge implications on their teaching practice and their relationship with students. It is a tool to critically evaluate textbooks, curriculum materials, and other educational resources.

The seminar also explored ways to counteract biases within educational material.

 

With the aim of strengthening a network of teachers working across linguistic divides, the seminar was facilitated in English with simultaneous interpretation to both Sinhala and Tamil. Participating teachers were also invited to share some of their own teaching methods and strategies. A highlight of the seminar was the visit to a nearby tea factory, which also provided an opportunity for Histories that Connect coordinator Buddisha Weerasuriya (University of Peradeniya) to share his work on placed-based learning methodologies. 

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