In depth: Braes High teacher helping Scotish pupils learn lessons of Srebrenica massacre

Braes High School sixth year pupils (left to right) Megan Pullar, Kayleigh Graham and Niamh Waddell with faculty head of humanities Fiona Malcolm
Braes High School sixth year pupils (left to right) Megan Pullar, Kayleigh Graham and Niamh Waddell with faculty head of humanities Fiona Malcolm

Educating a nation of secondary school pupils on the harrowing atrocities which can unfold if intolerance and prejudice are allowed to take hold is by no means an easy task.

However, that was the responsibility placed on the shoulders of one Falkirk district teacher.

And Fiona Malcolm, faculty head of humanities at Braes High, was more than equipped to take on that responsibility, having become the first Scottish teacher to visit a memorial site dedicated to the many thousands of victims of the Srebrenica massacre, the worst genocide witnessed on European soil since the Second World War.

Ms Malcolm will play a leading role in helping Scottish high school students of generations to come learn the lessons of the 1995 mass genocide.

The Polmont woman was able to call upon her first-hand experience of the Bosnian municipality and its people to co-produce a new national education pack and teacher training resource on the subject, entitled Story of Srebrenica.

The Srebrenica massacre saw more than 8000 Muslim men and boys murdered by the Bosnian-Serb army, while several women and young girls were also raped and abused by soldiers.

Around 20,000 civilians were expelled from the region as western forces pressed for a cease-fire to end three years of warfare on Bosnian territory.

Ms Malcolm and her co-author Robin MacPherson, Dollar Academy assistant rector and history teacher, were invited to attend and deliver speeches at a special ceremony at the Edinburgh Training and Conference Venue on Wednesday, May 30 as the learning materials were unveiled by the Remembering Srebrenica Scotland charity.

History and religious and moral education teachers from across the country gathered at the conference to learn how the pack can be most effectively used in the classroom to help to create a safe and tolerant society.

Ms Malcolm said: “We realise that events at Srebrenica are not widely known, so teachers need training to be able to deliver the programme.

“It is incredibly important young people in Scotland learn about what happened in Srebrenica.

“Our education pack has been designed to cover two core areas for teachers: subject knowledge and curriculum design.

“Each school will have their own needs and context so the curriculum design materials have been created with this in mind.

“We are mindful of teacher workload, so are keen to make introducing the lessons as easy as possible so that the maximum number of pupils can learn about what happened.”

However, though the material will be a crucial learning tool to Scottish teens, Ms Malcolm insists nothing compares to lived experience.

She said: “If I hadn’t have gone, my knowledge of Srebrenica would have continued to have been from sources like books.

“That is no bad thing but nothing replaces the feelings, emotions and understanding that you get from visiting the location of a genocide and meeting survivors.”

Earlier this year, members of Braes High’s youth theatre were praised by United Nations forensic investigator Robert McNeil for a play they produced depicting the Srebrenica massacre as part of Holocaust Memorial Day.

Mr McNeil, who helped to identify bodies dumped in mass graves in Srebrenica, was among the guest speakers at last month’s event.

He was joined by Dr Nedžad Avdić, a survivor of execution squad slayings which killed his own father and uncle.

Former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale also spoke to teachers about gender violence in Bosnia.

The board of the Remembering Srebrenica Scotland charity, chaired by former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Very Reverend Dr Lorna Hood, is confident the learning materials and their significance will live with future generations of Scots.

Dr Hood said: “My Christian faith, as lived out in the life of Jesus, speaks of our shared humanity always seeking to find that which connects us rather than that which divides us, whatever our faith or none.

“Every time genocide happens, the world says ‘never again’, yet history shows that it happens again and again.

“Understanding why it happens, and how it can be prevented, is crucial in the education of children and young people.

“There is recent evidence of a rise in hate crimes towards those considered different and non-white even here in Scotland.

“Our new and revised education pack will help young people understand how prejudice, discrimination, exclusion and intolerance diminish and degrade members of our community and may prevent them from taking and enjoying a full role in society.”

Dr Hood explained the organisation’s aim is to promote a “safe, tolerant and cohesive society”.

She continued: “Police Scotland statistics show there were 900 reports of hate crimes involving 11 to 15-year olds in 2016.

“And Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service figures showed there were 673 charges with a religious aggravation reported in 2016-17, 14 per cent more than in 2015-16.

“Story of Srebrenica is not ancient history, it is a recent event in a European country and a reminder that genocide isn’t something that happens somewhere else.

“We must begin in our schools and youth centres to help our young people understand the dangers of prejudice and hatred left unchecked.”

Remembering Srebenica Scotland also held an event in the Scottish Parliament on Thursday, May 31 to mark White Armband Day — when Bosnian-Serb authorities in Prijedor ordered all non-Serbs to wear white armbands and mark their houses with white flags to identify themselves.

It was an act which drew chilling parallels to the outward identification of Jewish people during the Holocaust.

Braes High sixth year pupils Megan Pullar, Kayleigh Graham and Niamh Waddell were among the attendees at the event, alongside Ms Malcolm.

The trio were given the opportunity to address the audience on the importance of teaching school pupils about what happened in Srebrenica, their speech earning a round of applause from a crowd of several hundreds, including MSPs such as Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard.

Speaking after the Braes High Lessons of Srebrenica performance in February, Niamh said: “Ms Malcolm’s knowledge of what happened in Srebrenica and passion for teaching the subject is really inspiring.

“One of the testimonies we re-enacted is from a 15-year-old girl who told of how she was repeatedly raped by soldiers.

“I found her story particularly shocking and hard-hitting.

“That was the worst thing for me, how terribly abused the women were as well as the mass murders.”