Teaching about 22 July

Author: Karoline Slåttum, Adviser EWC and teacher at Fyrstikkalleen School in Oslo

The terrorist attacks in Norway 22. of July 2011 marks the beginning of a new era in Norwegian education. For many children, and perhaps also a few adults, terrorism went from being something abstract and distant, to very real and near.

77 people were killed in the attacks, 8 in the Oslo bombing of the executive government quarter of Norway, and 69 in the massacre at a summer camp on the island of Utøya, where AUF, the youth division of the Norwegian Labour Party had a summer camp.  A survey done by a Norwegian newspaper shows that one in four Norwegians knew someone who was affected by the attacks (Skjeseth, 2011).

The Norwegian national curriculum gives freedom at the local level with respect to work methods, teaching materials and the organization of classroom instruction. Teachers report that there was little support from school administrations in the time after the terrorist attacks to start a discussion on how 22. July should be dealt with at the local level of education. As a result, teaching about 22. July has been left up to the individual teacher to decide whether they would incorporate discussions about the terrorist attacks into their individual subjects. A study conducted in 2015 shows that 22 July had almost been silenced in schools (Anker & von der Lippe, 2015).  Some teachers reported that they refrained from teaching the subject because they believed it was too difficult and sensitive for the pupils, while others said not teaching about 22. July was a personal choice because they were directly affected by the terrorist attacks. Others again did not want to give attention to the terrorist, and therefore did not want to spend time discussing his actions with their students. In addition, many felt they lacked the training and skills needed to teach sensitive and controversial issues connected to 22. July. Consequently, only teachers whose personal and academic background enabled them to deal with this sensitive issue, have taught their pupils about 22. July (Anker & von der Lippe, 2016). At the same time, teachers participating in EWCs educational programme on “22. July and democratic citizenship” are highly committed to the subject area, and report of many different methods and contexts where 22. July is included in practice. The problem is that this is random, connected to individual teachers and does not ensure that all Norwegian pupils are educated about the terrorist attacks.

As the years since the attacks has passed, a new generation of children, with no memory of 22. July have started school. Lately, there has been much debate about how 22. July should be taught in school, particularly in the events of an increased level of hate speech and a “tougher” tone in debates, predominantly on social media, along with an increased anti-democratic climate across Europe.

Curriculum reform

A curriculum reform is currently underway in Norway, and the new national curriculum will be in place by the start of the school year 2020-2021. For the first time, the topic of 22 July is explicitly addressed within the subject curriculum of social studies, however 22. of July is relevant in many of the other subjects, particularly in the transversal topic of democratic citizenship in the core curriculum. EWC, together with the Institute for Teacher Education at the Norwegian University of Technology and Science, is therefore working on developing resources that will support teachers of all subjects, not just social science.