Teachers should be better supported to address issues of sectarianism and racism - that’s one of the key messages of a Challenge Paper published today by the Good Relations Forum.
The intention of the Challenge Paper is to promote and encourage real, meaningful and sustained contact amongst children and young people from diverse backgrounds and cultures.
The paper sets out a series of recommendations to the Department of Education, other educational policy-makers and schools themselves.
Key recommendations include:
- that good relations becomes a compulsory part of the school curriculum
- that local schools are encouraged to work together more, particularly on a cross-community basis, using existing educational reforms and programmes
- that schools engage with and work more with local communities.
The Challenge Paper was presented to representatives from the education sector this afternoon (Thursday April 29 from 2.30pm) at an event hosted by the Belfast Model School for Girls.
The Challenge Paper highlights a number of ways that schools can get involved, including:
- encouraging local community groups and people from all backgrounds and cultures to use school facilities after hours
- sharing and publicising successful good relations work
- providing work experience in different sectors to student teachers.
Speaking at the event were the joint Good Relations Forum chairs - Bob Collins from the Equality Commission and Tony McCusker from the Community Relations Council, and Denis Rooney, Chairman of the International Fund for Ireland, which funds a number of good relations programmes in schools.
The Challenge Paper is launched as part of Community Relations Week, which features 150 events across Northern Ireland this week (April 26 to May 2).
CRC chairman Tony McCusker said: “This is an important piece of work that we have been pleased to work with the Equality Commission to deliver.”
“Opportunities exist resulting from the current restructuring and reform of education in Northern Ireland to ensure that good relations is embedded into schools. We hope that these recommendations will be used to ensure that the potential of our education system to support the delivery of a better, shared future is maximised.”
Equality Commission Chief Commissioner Bob Collins commented: “Our society is still struggling to be free of the legacy of the past. We owe it to future generations not to return to those dark days. We all need to focus on what we can do to build a more cohesive, shared and integrated society. Schools have an important role to play. They can give our young people the skills to resist the sectarianism and racism that unfortunately still exists in our society. We therefore believe that teaching and practising good relations in all our schools is something that can no longer be avoided or seen as optional.”
In his foreword, Sir George Bain wrote: “Schooling can help to counteract the negative views - hate, bigotry and prejudice - that exist in our society, and promote the healing of community divisions. This paper challenges the public sector and the community to take a new look at how schools and the communities they serve can be supported to reach out across the community divide to make good relations a reality, to collaborate more, to share resources and to embed the teaching of good relations in schools.”
Denis Rooney, Chairman of the International Fund for Ireland, said: “I was interested and happy to learn that many of the recommendations in the Good Relations Forum paper complement the goals of the Fund’s own Sharing in Education Programme. It is an integral element of our current strategy to facilitate more sharing and to promote reconciliation and non-sectarianism in Northern Ireland and the southern border counties. We currently fund several cross-community and also some cross-border projects under the Programme, which provides strategic opportunities for young people from different community backgrounds to learn and work together, with the aim of delivering improved academic and personal development outcomes.”
This Challenge Paper recommends to Government a way forward that focuses on improving all young people’s educational outcomes, as well as promoting a schools sector that is more socially cohesive across its many boundaries.
The Challenge Paper comes at the right time, following the political parties reaching agreement at Hillsborough, to agree a way forward to secure a better future for all. It is also well timed to influence the development of a strong Cohesion, Sharing and Integration Strategy.
The full document is available on www.equalityni.org/ or in hard copy from the Equality Commission 028 90 500 600 or the Community Relations Council on 028 9022 7500.
Click here to download this document (2171KB Adobe PDF file)