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Quality history education in the 21st century

Principles and guidelines


History education has an important role to play in confronting the current political, cultural and social challenges facing Europe; in particular, those posed by the increasingly diverse nature of societies, the integration of migrants and refugees into Europe, and by attacks on democracy and democratic values. The overall aim of these Principles and guidelines, therefore, is to enhance the expertise and capability needed if history education is to play that role successfully. They build on the Council of Europe’s vision of history teaching as reflected in a number of key documents of the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly.


The main input has come from four regional seminars held during the period 2016-2017 in the framework of the intergovernmental project Educating for diversity and democracy: teaching history in contemporary Europe. They brought together government officials and practitioners in history education from all member states. The seminars focused on three main themes: building diverse, inclusive and democratic societies; dealing with sensitive and controversial issues; and developing critical historical thinking in the digital age.


These Principles and guidelines are addressed primarily to those politicians, officials and others in each member state who are responsible for the development of the school history curriculum; but they are also for those teachers and teacher trainers whose role it is to deliver the curriculum to students. Ideally, however, it is hoped that all who have an interest in the nature, quality and impact of the history taught in schools – including students, their parents and the wider public – will find these Principles and guidelines useful. Although the Principles and guidelines are specific to the teaching and learning of history, they should be viewed in the context of the wider educational aims and commitment expressed by the Council of Europe, the European Commission and UNESCO.


In the Incheon Declaration, the Education 2030 Framework for Action (FFA) Agenda offers a vision of education that goes beyond the utilitarian to be an approach that seeks to integrate ‘the multiple dimensions of human existence’. It defines quality education as one which ‘fosters creativity and knowledge, and ensures the acquisition of the foundational skills of literacy and numeracy as well as analytical, problem solving and other high-level cognitive, interpersonal and social skills. It also develops the skills, values and attitudes that enable citizens to lead healthy and fulfilled lives, make informed decisions, and respond to local and global challenges …’Additionally, the signatories to the Declaration committed to developing ‘more inclusive, responsive and resilient education systems to meet the needs of children, youth and adults … including internally displaced persons and refugees’.


The Education 2030 Framework for Action (FFA) was adopted by 184 UNESCO member states, and the global education community at the high-level meeting (Paris, November 2015) alongside the UNESCO 38th General Conference.


The study of history has a particular contribution to make in delivering that vision and commitment. It offers insights into the complexities and diversity of past human behaviour; it fosters the ability to interrogate differing, even conflicting, narratives; it requires that arguments are supported by an understanding of wide-ranging evidence. But history in schools can only make such a contribution if what is taught, how it is taught and the quality of the available resources enables it to do so.

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The Portuguese translation was sponsored by CITCEM  ̶  a Transdisciplinary "Culture, Space and Memory" Research Centre devoted to research in the fields of History, Archaeology, Art History, Literary and Cultural Studies, Museology, Historical Demography and Information Science, gathering more than three hundred researchers from the Faculty of Arts and Humanities of the University of Porto.