Teaching Controversial Issues in the Nordic Countries

Teachers, school leaders and representatives from Ministries of Education and other stakeholders from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden spent three days at the European Wergeland Centre and Utøya, exploring the Council of Europe manuals "Teaching Controversial Issues" and "Managing Controversy".

The training is a part of the EWC project “Teaching Controversial Issues in the Nordic Countries”. It is supported through the Norwegian Chairmanship of the Nordic Council of Ministries, under their programme on “Democracy, Inclusion and Security“, which aims to enhance the role of the school as the centre of inclusion in order to prevent violent extremism and radicalization.

In her opening speech, chair of the EWC board, Haldis Margrete Holst, underlined that she was particularly pleased that the Nordic countries have taken such an initiative:

“Sometimes I must admit that the Nordics can come across as “the know-it-alls”. But just the fact that you are here, means that you are saying: “Yes, we are good at stuff, but that does not mean that we don’t need to challenge ourselves to do things better”. That is a very good starting point. It is about acknowledging that every teacher comes with a baggage, with experiences that have formed them. That will be reflected in their teaching whether they like it or not”, Holst said.

“The objective of the teacher profession is to instruct students to learn about the world in many different ways, some of which they or their parents might disagree with. Some parents and governments don’t want their children exposed to any other views than those they have at home. This is dangerous in my mind, because how can you then learn about the other or about controversial issues?

As what is controversial differs from classroom to classroom, the participants at the training used some time to identify the issues that are controversial in their schools. They also discussed the importance of creating safe learning environments where young people can engage in democratic dialogue about controversial issues in a respectful way.

Later they made action plans to transfer new ideas, experiences and knowledge into practice. The participants will work on their action plans in their schools from June to November with guidance from EWC and national facilitators in each country. Participants will also benefit from the translation of the Council of Europe manuals into the Nordic languages. The training took place under the umbrella of EWC’s international programme “Learning Democracy at Utøya”, and was carried out by EWC’s Ingrid Aspelund, Prof. David Kerr, one of the authors of the manuals “Teaching Controversial Issues” and “Managing Controversy”, and Solveig Moldrheim.

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