Background information for teachers: what traces of Europe are present in students’ daily life

Students at primary level have a different perception of time and spatial relationships than adults. Therefore, when tackling Europe as a topic at primary school level, it is essential to find age-adequate touching points where a didactical concept of European learning can be developed. Concepts of space and relations are different to those of students at secondary level. The students’ prior knowledge, their current attitudes towards Europe and their interests, as well as different ways for them to gather information, should be reflected on by the teacher beforehand. How can primary school students learn about Europe? Not forgetting one of the key EDC/HRE questions relating to Europe: what is European identity? EDC/HRE is not a national concept. It is a concept that deals with the question of how people live together in different settings: in terms of family, neighbourhood, class, school, region, country, and in terms of Europe.

When looking at the reality of students’ lives, it becomes evident that nowadays primary school students grow up with an international and therefore also a European dimension to their daily life.

Students experience this in terms of internationality, multiculturalism and multilingualism in various contexts:

  • through living together with children from different nations and cultures (in kindergarten, at school, in the area in which they live);
  • through international products;
  • through European and international references in media used by the students (books, magazines, television, CDs, the Internet, etc.);
  • through travelling.

Most of these contexts are taken for granted by students from an early age and are perceived unconsciously. For example, students are not conscious of the origins of foods such as spaghetti, pizza and croissants, as they have not actively experienced the slow process of integration of consumer goods within Europe. At the same time, stereotypes and simplified viewpoints of various parts of our continent are constantly appearing in the media. For students, these stereotypes can become prior “knowledge” about Europe that has somehow been “endorsed”. In reality, these are attitudes or subjective beliefs rather than knowledge.

Thus, primary school students cannot be viewed as a tabula rasa when talking about Europe. What teaching about Europe can add is the dimension of sorting, systematising, expanding and objectifying any prior knowledge. Teaching and learning should therefore aim at reflecting present stereotypes, prejudices and opinions, as well as at focusing on raising awareness of a multicultural, multilingual and in itself diverse but equal European society.

In comparison to the secondary level, teaching and learning about Europe in primary school has to be experienced and lived actively. Teaching needs to encompass a very open-minded approach, which leans towards two disciplinary dimensions – the objective–neutral and the ideal – and which uses very concrete examples from students’ daily lives. For this age group, real communication and friendship are the central didactical dimensions for teaching and learning. Where the group includes students with a migration background, this could be used as one of the starting points for teaching and learning about Europe and its people.

This activity is articulated in 2 lessons:

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