Thursday, 11 March 2010

A Roman Catholic and Irish identity

On the front page of the Irish News this morning there was picture of a some of the pupils outside St Eugene's High School, a Roman Catholic school in Castlederg.  Part of the name on the school building is covered by a poster, which is being held by one of the children, but the words Ardscoil and Naomh, written in old 'Celtic-style' script, are clearly visible.

This is a simple example of the way in which Roman Catholic schools affirm and promote an Irish, Gaelic and Celtic cultural identity for the children who attend them.  It is done through Irish signage, Irish language, Irish traditional music and Irish games.  In other words the schools have an Irish cultural ethos.

This contrasts with the approach of many controlled schools to the subject of cultural identity.  Yet the children attending controlled schools, the vast majority of whom are from a Protestant and unionist background, have the right to see their cultural traditions affirmed in the schools they attend.  Those traditions may include Ulster-Scots, Ulster-British or Orange culture but if these are the cultures of the children who attend the school then, according to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and other human rights instruments, those cultures should be affirmed within the school.  It is simply a matter of human rights and good practice.

For too long this issue has been hidden away but we are now getting it out on the table and I have raised it directly with the Education Minister, Caitriona Ruane.  We are due to meet again in a few weeks time to continue the conversation and I am hopeful that in the not too distant future we will see this matter being addressed. 

It will require change in a number of areas, including:

1. Incorporation of cultural traditions into initial teacher training

2. The development and provision of appropriate teaching materials

3. In-service teacher training

4. Guidance for school governors about the cultural ethos of the school and the cultural rights of the child


7 comments:

  1. Cultural awareness should have no place in the education system on either side. Part of the problem in this country stems from the fact that, generally, the schools our children attend are selected firstly on a cultural basis rather than than on academic prowess. Besides, cultural identity is not as easily definable as teaching Irish at a Catholic school or teaching Ulster-Scots to Protestant school children. Many of these traditions hold no real meaning for the children of Northern Ireland today, they merely reinforce stereotypes.
    I am a Catholic but much of what I was taught as being my cultural heritage was as foreign to me as Ulster-Scots.
    I would also refer to one of your previous blog entries regarding the use of the term 'Northern Irish'. I assume you do not advocate using this term as, by law at least, there is no 'Northern Irish' nationality. Nationalists would mirror this sentiment but for obvious differing reasons.
    However according to the NI Life and Times Survey 2008 (http://www.ark.ac.uk/nilt/2008/Community_Relations/NINATID.html) 29% of people would consider themselves Northern Irish, the second largest demographic and up 6% from 1998.
    The way people are identifying themselves here is changing, however the cultural identifiers seem to be rooted in another age and of other nations. What is even more staggering is that there is no clear representation for this section of the community in Stormont.

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  3. I agree with Anton: "Cultural awareness should have no place in the education system on either side." You go to school to grow acadaemicaly and artistically - you don't go to have religion in any form shoved down your throat.

    Times will hopefully change and these bigots will hopefully die out.

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  4. Anton & Sozzals - I would simply direct you to Article 29 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child: 'States parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to:(c) The development of respect for ... his or her own cultural identity, language and values.
    Each child has the right to learn about its own cultural identity within the education system and this right is recognised internationally.

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  5. The wording of this Convention is extremely ambiguous, it simply refers to a child's education without explicitly inferring that cultural identity should be taught in the education system. Education does not begin and end in the classroom.

    I would point to France, one of the countries to have ratified the Convention, who do not feel compelled to allow religious expression within the school system despite numerous provisions in the UN Convention on the Right of the Child.

    Yet if we are bound by law to uphold this convention, drafted by an unelected and unaccountable committee, we should be bound to uphold it in its entirety.
    I am referring to Article 29(d)'The preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society...among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin'

    I would then point to these figures (http://www.psni.police.uk/quarterly_hate_incidents_and_crimes_statistics__apr_to_sep_200910_.pdf) and suggest that we have failed, and continue to fail miserably.

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  6. 1. This is only one of a number of human rights obligations relating to culture and eucation. There are general provisions on education in all the main international human rights conventions abut there are more detailed provisions in minority rights conventions. These have particular relevance to Northern Ireland since in the context of the United Kingdom, each of the cultural communities is a minority.
    2. You are right in saying that education does not begin and end in the classroom, but the UNCRC is about the obligation of the state.
    3. There is also an equality issue here as the rights set out in the UNCRC and other human rights conventions belong to belong to each and every child equally. It is important therefore that they are implemented equally across all education sectors in Northern Ireland.
    4. The inclusion of culture in the classroom is not only a human rights issue and an equality issue. It is also a matter of good practice. As far back as 1975 the Bullock Report stated that: 'No pupil should be expected to cast off the language and culture of the home as he crosses the school threshold, nor to live and act as if school and home represent two totally separate and different cultures which have to be kept firmly apart.' It has long been recognised by educationalists that the extent to which the culture of the child is incorporated into the school programme is significantly related to the children's academic success and personal achievement.
    5. Of course there is also an obligation to ensure that schools teach children about other cultures and traditions and that they contribute to social cohesion and a 'shared abd better future'. This is reflected to some extent in Article 29d, as you point out. It is not, however, a case of one or the other but rather of one and the other. This brings us back to the shared future model of equity, diversity and interdependence, to which I am wholeheartedly committed.

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  7. I see you modified your little sectarian rant since yesterday

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