Holocaust education ‘may affect boys less than girls’

By Dana Gloger, September 4, 2008
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Boys and girls appear to respond very differently to Holocaust education, according to academics who monitored children's attitudes to racism over a four-year period.

Lecturers from Strathclyde University and the University of the West of Scotland spoke to 155 secondary-school pupils in Scotland, comprising one group which had been taught about the Holocaust at primary school and another which had not previously learnt about it.

All had studied it in their Year Nine history lessons at secondary school.

The researchers asked the students if they thought it acceptable to make racist comments; whether they would challenge other people's racist comments; their views on refugees; and their voting intentions.
As part of the four-year study, the students were questioned in primary school before any had had lessons on the Holocaust; afterwards; and again when they reached secondary school.

When asked if they thought it was acceptable to make racist comments to someone Jewish, only 86 per cent of boys said it was not, compared with 100 per cent of the girls.

The results showed that in every category boys were "significantly less positive than girls". The academics had not found such stark gender differences in their previous similar research.

One of the researchers, Paula Cowan of the University of West Scotland, who is herself Jewish, said the results were "quite alarming". She said: "It raised important questions about how the Holocaust is taught and whether it should be taught differently to boys than to girls. There was a significant difference between the genders, in every category."

Kay Andrews, head of education at the Holocaust Education Trust (HET), said: "It is quite groundbreaking to look at the gender differences in such education, but it is important to note that this research was conducted in Scotland, where Holocaust education is not mandatory, so teachers were probably teaching it due to their own interest in, and commitment to, the subject. As such, we need to know much more about how it was being taught."

A marginally higher proportion (two per cent) of those who had studied the Holocaust in primary school, compared with those who had learnt about it only in secondary school, were found to think it was acceptable to make racist comments.

But another researcher, Henry Maitles of the University of Strathclyde, warned that this did not mean that those who were taught about the topic at a younger age were more racist.

"The difference is small, and when dealing with samples such as ours, which included only 155 pupils in total, such differences could be down to something completely unrelated, such as a pupil being absent on a certain day."

The research also found pupils who had studied the Holocaust at both primary and secondary school were more likely to challenge racism in others.

Those who had not studied the Holocaust at primary school had managed to catch up with those who had by the age of 14 to 15.

Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Education Trust, said: "While teaching the Holocaust can be challenging, particularly at primary level, we have seen first hand how learning about the Holocaust opens minds and encourages people to speak up and make a stand against prejudice, hatred, racism and intolerance, wherever it occurs."

    Last updated: 10:34am, September 4 2008