«A Comparative Case Study of North Rhine-Westphalia (Germany) and Ireland by Melanie Liese B.A. School of Applied Languages and Intercultural Studies ...»
Although ethnic and cultural minorities have always been present in Ireland, Irish society was largely perceived as homogeneous until the 1990s (see McManus 1997, O‟Connell 1997, Schonfeld 2002, p.4, Lodge and Lynch 2004, pp.3-4). As a result, ethnic and cultural minorities were widely ignored in policy-making (Lodge and Lynch 2004, pp.3-4, O‟Connell 1997). However the Travelling Community, “an indigenous minority, documented as being part of Irish society for centuries” (Pavee Point 2005-6), has received some attention. Three major developments in relation to policies on the Travelling Community, which illustrate an apparent change of stance towards Travellers on a governmental level over the years have been identified (Murray 2002, pp.51-57, Lodge and Lynch 2004, pp.92-93, O‟Connell 1997).
Firstly, the Report of the Commission on Itinerary, published in 1963, focused on the assimilation of Travellers, whereby “the Traveller community was required to conform to the norms of the majority culture” (Murray 2002, p.53). Travellers were seen as a „problem‟ who, because of their nomadic lifestyle, did not fit into mainstream society (ibid).
As the policy on assimilation was unsuccessful, the government acknowledged in the Report of the Travelling People Review Body 1983 that the Travelling Community “has needs, wants and values which are different in some way from those of the settled community” (Review Body 1983, p.6). Although this recognition was seen as a milestone in contrast to that of twenty years earlier, the Review Body “continued to initiate reintegration policies but replaced the concept of „absorption‟ with that of „integration‟” (Murray 2002, p.54). The focus was solely on the need for Travellers who were required to adjust to the settled majority (ibid). The sudden increase in immigration in the 1990s, however, generated a general recognition and acknowledgment of ethnic and cultural diversity in Irish society (Schonfeld 2002, p.4, Rowe 2002, p.64, O‟Connell 1997). This resulted in a change of policies on many levels and a shift towards an intercultural perspective.
The Report of the Task Force on the Travelling Community 1995 shows a significant change in official thinking, and marks the beginning of serious consideration of ethnic and cultural diversity in Irish society and legislation. It acknowledges “the Traveller community‟s culture [as being] distinct and different” (Report of the Task Force on the Travelling Community 1995, p.5) and requests reconciliation between the „Settled‟ community and the Travelling community. It recognises that this can only be achieved if “both communities play a role in fostering understanding, consideration and respect for each other‟s culture” (ibid, p.4). In terms of education,
the report calls for:
[an] intercultural curriculum [...] based on a number of principles including avoiding racist interpretation in texts, respect for all cultures, information about minority groups in the entire curriculum, a focus on broader equality and human right issues, and inclusion of the intangible aspects of culture such as values and perspectives (ibid, p.14).
The focus on an intercultural curriculum, first called for in the Report of the Task Force on the Travelling Community 1995, was further developed and outlined in the Primary School Curriculum, and more specifically in the Guidelines on Traveller Education in Primary Schools in 2002. These guidelines are primarily concerned with the integration of Travellers through an intercultural approach in mainstream schools (Department of Education and Science 2002, p.2) and they include information and practical advice for educators. Within this document, an entire chapter is dedicated to “Intercultural education in the primary school curriculum” (ibid, pp.34-53), requesting that members of the Traveller Community, as well as other ethnic minorities, be integrated in an inclusive manner, whereby “young people should be enabled to appreciate the richness of a diversity of cultures and be supported in practical ways to recognise and to challenge prejudice and discrimination (ibid, p.34). The guidelines therefore call for, amongst other things, the acknowledgement and non-biased reflection of Traveller culture in learning resources, including textbooks (ibid, p.38). In practical terms, the guidelines demonstrate how the Primary School Curriculum should be read and applied from an intercultural viewpoint, and they include a list of intercultural teaching materials including children‟s literature (ibid, pp.77-87). However, the books recommended in the guidelines have not been examined here as this would exceed the scope of this study.
An intercultural approach to education in Ireland has been further reinforced by the publication of the Intercultural Education in the Primary School guidelines published in 2005. While the Guidelines on Traveller Education in Primary Schools engage more specifically with the subject of Traveller education, these guidelines “address the curriculum needs of all children, whether from a minority or the majority ethnic group, which arise in the context of growing cultural and ethnic diversity” (National Council for Curriculum and Assessment 2005, p.5).
Following the Guidelines on Traveller Education in Primary Schools (2002), a further step has been taken in relation to Traveller Education. The Report and Recommendations for a Traveller Education Strategy (2006) reviews past and current policies, and “sets out the challenges for the future and identifies ways in which to approach those challenges” (Report and Recommendations for a Traveller Education Strategy 2006, p.8).
Furthermore, at the time of writing, the Department of Education and Science is in the process of preparing a National Intercultural Education Strategy, which seeks to mainstream “education provision through inclusive practices by and for all involved in the education of both migrants and host community at national and local level” (Lenihan 2008). While the ongoing engagement with the subject of intercultural education on all levels is to be welcomed, it has to be mentioned that the “recent budget cuts in education [...] are likely to have negative consequences for newcomers and other vulnerable young people in the education system” (ESRI 2009, p.186). For example, the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism, which has also played a vital role in the recent planning of the National Intercultural Education Strategy, has ceased to exist as a direct consequence of the budget cutbacks (NCCRI 2003a).
From a historical point of view, the Travelling Community as an ethnic minority has been immensely important to the process and development of intercultural education policies in Ireland. This study, however, looks at ethnic and cultural diversity in general (including Travellers). Therefore, in the Irish context, the Irish Education Act 1998 and three curricular documents have been examined: Firstly, the Introduction to the Primary School Curriculum (National Council for Curriculum and Assessment 1999a), which gives an overview of primary education in Ireland as a whole, states functions and objectives and introduces the different subject areas.
Secondly, the Primary School Curriculum English Language (ibid, 1999b), in particular for grades 3 and 4 as the study is based on textbooks for the subject of English in those grades, and thirdly the Intercultural Education in the Primary School guidelines issued in 2005, which “support the Primary School Curriculum (1999) and identify the ways in which intercultural education permeates that curriculum” (National Council for Curriculum and Assessment 2005, p.5).
3.3.2 Ethnic and Cultural Diversity in Education Act of Ireland (1998)
The Education Act published in 1998 is a directive for education in Ireland and includes provisions on curriculum policies. It recognises Irish society to be ethnically and culturally diverse, as it aspires “to make provision in the interest of the common good for the education of every person in the state”, as well as “to ensure that the education system is accountable to students, their parents and the state for the education provided, respects the diversity of values, beliefs, languages and traditions in Irish society” (Government of Ireland 1998).
3.3.3 Ethnic and Cultural Diversity in the Primary School Curriculum Introduction The concept of „change‟ is a very prominent theme throughout the Irish school curriculum demonstrating a perceived need for education to adapt to a constantly evolving society in order to adequately “reflect [Irish] society” (National Council for Curriculum and Assessment 1999a, p.6). In recent years, this includes the increase in ethnic and cultural diversity amongst people living in Ireland, as outlined in the introductory chapter.
The Primary School Curriculum acknowledges these changes on several occasions and bases the need for the revised curriculum in 1999 upon them. Dr. Caroline Hussey, Chairperson of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, for example, states that “the curriculum [...] responds to changing needs, particularly in the areas of science and technology, social, personal and health education, and citizenship [...]” (National Council for Curriculum and Assessment 1999a, p.vii).
Furthermore, the curriculum seeks to “cater for the needs of children in the modern world” (ibid, p.3), to “enable [...] children to function effectively in a changing society and to cope successfully with the demands of modern life” (ibid, p.10). It is also claimed that “the curriculum reflects the educational, cultural, social and economic aspirations and concerns of Irish society” (ibid, p.6). The effects of globalization and the resulting changes in modern Ireland including the growing diversity of its people are seen as being a primary concern for educational policy (ibid).
More specifically, in terms of ethnic and cultural diversity, the Primary School Curriculum in Ireland seeks to “reflect [...] the many dimensions of human experience, activity and expression” (ibid, p.10), “acknowledges [...] the importance of a balanced and informed awareness of the diversity of peoples and environments in the world” (ibid, p.27) and seeks “to enable children to develop respect for cultural difference” (ibid, p.34).
Most important perhaps for the purpose of this study is the statement on “Pluralism” in the Primary School Curriculum Introduction, which is one of the “key issues in
primary education” (ibid, p.26):
The curriculum has a particular responsibility in promoting tolerance and respect for diversity in both the school and the community. Children come from a diversity of cultural, religious, social, environmental and ethnic backgrounds, and these engender their own beliefs, values, and aspirations.
The curriculum acknowledges the centrality of the Christian heritage and tradition in the Irish experience and the Christian identity shared by the majority of Irish people. It equally recognises the diversity of beliefs, values and aspirations of all religions and cultural groups in society (ibid, p.28).
While the Primary School Curriculum recognises ethnic and cultural diversity and encourages tolerance and respect in the full sense of pluralism, it emphasises the importance of fostering “a sense of Irish identity” through education as “[it] reflects the historical and cultural roots of Irish society” (ibid, p.26).
The attention given to the Irish majority in the curriculum is shown further in Chapter 5, where the different curriculum areas are introduced. As this dissertation, however, looks at textbooks for the subject of English, the curriculum area “Language” has been singled out for observation. Here, prominence is given to
Gaeilge and English:
An appropriate experience of both languages has an important contribution to make to the development of the child‟s cultural awareness and sense of cultural identity. Psychologically, historically and linguistically, an experience of both languages is the right of every Irish child (ibid, p.43).
Gaeilge and English are of course the official languages in Ireland and therefore the importance of acquiring at least one of them needs to be stressed and cannot be ignored. However, while the significance of Gaeilge and English are highlighted as part of Irish identity, other languages that children encounter as an element of everyday life in Irish schoolyards and elsewhere in contemporary society have not been considered.