History Blog

Who teaches about Rwanda?
By Andy Lawrence
07 May
If you were conscious of current affairs twenty years ago I wonder which event in 1994 has become indelibly imprinted on your memory? The death of Ayrton Senna in a Grand Prix race, the suicide of Kurt Cobain or the murder of around 1 million people in a genocide in Rwanda?

Last month saw the 20th anniversary of the start of the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. You may have come across some of the coverage that appeared in the press and on our airwaves and screens. It was the stories that focussed on individual human beings that resonated the most. Mark Doyle’s (@doylebytes) telling of the exploits of Captain Mbaye Diagne, a Senegalese peacekeeper who saved hundreds of lives was both inspirational and heartrending. From a different perspective the story of  Liliane, a Tutsi survivor who at fifteen at the time of the genocide, had her tale told in animation Newsnight. Pupils at my school met Liliane, heard her story and were inspired to try and raise awareness about the genocide amongst other young people – a project that I’ll talk about in a future post.

I wonder if what you saw inspired you to include Rwanda in your schemes of work? Anecdotal evidence suggests that, at present, teaching about the genocide is not widespread. A recent survey of close to 100 History and RE teachers showed that only just over half teach about the events of 1994 as part of their curriculum. Of those who do teach about Rwanda few have enough time to devote three or fewer lessons to their study…and those who don’t cover the genocide cite lack of time as the prime reason for not doing so.

Many teachers who to ask their pupils to investigate what happened feel hamstrung by a lack of resources. Close to seven out of ten rely on Hotel Rwanda as a central teaching aid whilst only 40 per cent are able to deploy survivors testimony within their lessons. More than nine out of ten of the teachers who take part in the survey stated that they would consider teaching about the genocide if they had access to suitable resources and/or training (close to 75 per cent of those questioned rated their knowledge of the Rwandan genocide as no better than ‘average’.)

Nevertheless, there is much good work going on in schools and amongst various organisations around the country. The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust is spending the next hundred days inviting guests such as Lord McConnell (@LordMcConnell) and David Belton (@DavidBelton7 ) to blog on their thoughts about the genocide. Similarly the National Holocaust Centre (@HolocaustCentUK) is also reaching out to one hundred schools with an education programme that sees them team up with Aegis Students to offer free workshops over the hundred day commemorative period.

So, teachers face many obstacles if they consider teaching their students about what happened in Rwanda twenty years ago – so many obstacles that clearly many, quite understandably, don’t bother. Over the course of the next few posts I’d like to highlight reasons for seeking to surmount those difficulties and to point to sources of good quality materials that might make the job a little easier and an exploration of the genocide a worthwhile exercise for teachers and students alike.
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