Young peopleís knowledge of history and understanding of the past is partial at best and is loaded towards their own community. Just one in three people (30%) believed they were equally knowledgeable of both unionist and nationalist perspectives on the historical past and the Troubles. This is one of the main conclusions in a research report published today by the Community Relations Council.
The report, ‘The Troubles Aren’t History Yet- Young People’s Understanding of the Past’, by John Bell, Ulf Hansson and Nick McCaffery, is based on research carried out by the Institute for Conflict Research, in partnership with Achieve Enterprises, for the Community Relations Council. The researchers surveyed the views of 958 young people and held discussion groups in twelve locations across Northern Ireland.
Reports of children, as young as ten years old, participating in sectarian rioting in Belfast raises the question of how young people with no direct experience of the Troubles learn about it and from whom? And how does the process of learning shape their understanding of their own identity and their attitudes and relationships with others?
The research found that, although formal education partly shaped young people’s understanding of the past, parents, relatives and the media (particularly films) also had a significant impact, particularly on knowledge and understanding of the recent past. Young people often had at best a sketchy knowledge of key events, whether these occurred during the Troubles or in the distant past, and that knowledge was strongly influenced by their own community background or where they lived. However, the research also found that young people welcomed the opportunity to learn more about the recent past through formal education and to discuss past events both among their own community and in a cross-community setting.
The research concluded that education providers both in formal education and in the less formal voluntary and community sector needed to find ways to broaden young people’s knowledge and understanding of recent Northern Ireland history and to do so in a way that does not simply reinforce a perception of two parallel histories that only intersect through acts of violence. Rather the young people should be encouraged to recognise the complex ways that past events unfold and impact upon contemporary and future lives.