Educators and members of the Jewish and Muslim communities in Manitoba are welcoming a recent announcement by the province to push back on acts of hatred through education.
In their first throne speech as a newly elected government on Tuesday, Premier Wab Kinew and the Manitoba NDP announced they would be implementing mandatory Holocaust education in the K-12 curriculum and introducing anti-Islamophobia toolkits in classrooms.
It comes following concerning instances of hate-motivated acts and hate-motivated crimes both in Manitoba and across the country amid the Israel-Hamas conflict.
“It’s been very upsetting to see, in recent weeks, incidents of antisemitism, incidents of Islamophobia, racism,” Kinew said during a Tuesday press conference prior to the throne speech.
“Our government knows that there are many steps we have to take to get a handle on this situation, to try to prevent racism, Islamophobia and antisemitism in the future.”
Manitoba now joins British Columbia, Ontario and Saskatchewan in mandating Holocaust education.
Belle Jarniewski, the executive director of the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada in Winnipeg, says it’s welcome, but long overdue. Jarniewski says archival documents at the heritage centre show that their first outreach to the government asking for mandated Holocaust education was in the 1970s.
“I think it’s very important, we are seeing a degree of antisemitism in our country and globally that we really have not seen in many, many decades,” Jarniewski told Global News.
“It’s frightening, we’re seeing students who are afraid. We’re seeing, particularly in Ontario, reports of Jewish students who are being attacked verbally, who are being attacked physically, and even lack of education extending to educators themselves and not knowing how to respond to this kind of targeting of Jewish students.”
Jarniewski says she has had preliminary discussions with Manitoba Education Minister Nello Altomare and while details are still being sorted out, the mandated education will likely be part of the Grade 11 history curriculum.
“Holocaust education is about much more than just learning the facts about what happened between 1933 and 1945, it really helps students understand concepts like democracy, dictatorship, propaganda, collaboration, resistance, intervention and what the early signs of mass atrocity are, what the early signs of genocide are,” Jarniewski said.
“Even digital literacy – because we’re seeing all kinds of things out there that are not true – and without having that educational background basis, students are not able to understand what is hate, what is simply distortion and what is fact.”
Eve Sotiriadou, a member of the Manitoba Islamic Association’s anti-Islamophobia committee, helped design the education toolkits that will be appearing in Manitoba classrooms.
“We launched the research a couple years ago looking into the phenomenon of Islamophobia in Manitoba, and the data we received in our researching showed … 43 per cent of participants experiencing Islamophobia in an education setting,” Sotiriadou told Global News.
Sotiriadou says the toolkit, titled ‘Embracing Diversity in Manitoba Education K-12,’ will be launched on Dec. 6, and includes lesson plans, literature, resources and workshops for both educators and students.
“I think it goes back to the fact that we want our students to feel welcome and safe and appreciated within our school communities, and that’s really where it’s stemming from,” said Sotiriadou, adding that as an educator herself, she was witnessed the need for anti-Islamophobia education.
“There are barriers to accessing resources – from a prayer room to readings that are relevant,” she said.
“Going back to what the National Council of Canadian Muslims report (outlined), we have a 300 per cent jump of Islamophobia since Oct. 7. So I think that makes it more applicable and relatable right now.”
Educators welcome the move
Kelly Reimer, a history teacher at Kelvin High School, applauds the recent announcement by the province.
“I think that we ought to care about any sort of instances of hate not only in our hallways but in our society and the kinds of political projects that result from allowing those kinds of hate to percolate,” Reimer said.
Reimer says he’s looking forward to seeing the additional resources from the province, particularly when it comes to anti-Islamophobia, a topic he believes has gone largely unaddressed in many schools and may require more training for educators. He says the education system has an important role to play.
“Regardless the victims, regardless of the perpetrators, we need to train ourselves well to fight back against any of the things that we are now quite clear are massively damaging to humanity,” Reimer said.
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