Tuesday, 16 June 2020
Department of Education and Skills
The vital importance of history, both national history and world history, and the study of history is central to an understanding not just of the past but also of the conditions which created the society in which we live and the many factors which influence the way people live their lives and the attitudes, both positive and negative, which exist in our society. I believe it is important that we continue to teach our future generations the lessons of our history, including the many dark aspects of recent Irish history including our mistreatment of women, children and the Travelling community among others. On this basis I took the decision to give History a “special core status” in the Junior Cycle from September 2020.
The curriculum, at both primary and post primary level, is considered to be for all learners regardless of race, religion, socioeconomic background, gender or orientation. It is the aim of my Department that every child has access to equitable education and that each learner feels safe and happy in the school environment, at every stage.
At primary level, the current curriculum acknowledges the importance of a balanced and informed awareness of the diversity of peoples and environments in the world. Such an awareness helps children to understand the world and contributes to their personal and social development as citizens of a global community. The curriculum promotes tolerance and respect for diversity in both the school and the community.
In particular, the Social Personal and Health Education Curriculum (SPHE) supports pupils’ learning in the areas of inclusion, diversity and counter racism. In the context of social, economic, cultural, ethnic and religious diversity, it seeks to foster in the child attitudes and behaviour that are characterised by understanding, empathy, and mutual respect. It addresses, too, the issues of equity and human rights, and fosters in the child the realisation that rights have associated responsibilities. Children explore the diversity of the world in which they live. They are encouraged to learn about their own traditions and culture and are given opportunities to compare and contrast these with other ethnic or cultural groups in society. They explore and examine how discrimination can occur in school, in the local community and in their own country. The SPHE curriculum is continued at post primary level and builds on the learning from primary school.
Intercultural education guidelines were provided by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) in 2007 to support the Primary School Curriculum (1999) and for post-primary schools to identify the ways in which intercultural education permeates the curriculum. These guidelines contribute to the development of Ireland as an intercultural society based on a shared sense that language, culture and ethnic diversity is valuable. They aim to contribute to the development of a shared ability and sense of responsibility to protect for each other the right to be different and to live free from discrimination.
The Primary Curriculum is currently undergoing a period of review and redevelopment. The draft Primary Curriculum Framework was published by the NCCA in February 2020 on for public consultation. Education and diversity is one of eight overarching principles of the draft framework and provides for equity of opportunity and participation in children’s learning. Being an active citizen is one of seven key competencies outlined in the draft framework. This competency fosters within children the knowledge, skills, concepts, attitudes, values and dispositions that motivate and empower them as citizens to take positive actions to live justly, sustainably and with regard for the rights of others. It helps children question, critique and understand what is happening in the world within a framework of human rights, equality and social justice. While the Department prescribes curricula and syllabuses for implementation in primary schools, it does not endorse any textbooks for use in schools. Neither does the Department have any involvement in the publication of such textbooks, beyond informing publishers in a timely fashion about the introduction of any new syllabus.
At post-primary level, there are a number of prescribed texts for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate. Outside of these prescribed works, the decision on any additional texts to support teaching and learning rests with the school.
The work of the prescribed text list working groups for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate English is informed and guided by Criteria for the Selection of Texts which aims to achieve a balance between classic and contemporary texts; Irish and non-Irish authorship; seeks gender balance in authorship and representation; embraces diversity and inclusion; accessibility of texts; general suitability and comparative potential.
Current and previous text lists offer many opportunities to explore issues relating to racism and inclusion/exclusion of particular groups in society. The text list for Junior Cycle English currently includes, for example, the novels Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe; Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman; and the play The 14th Tale by Inua Ellams.
Other texts which offer opportunities to explore issues relating to racism and inclusion/exclusion of particular groups in society include The Secret Diary of Anne Frank; The Cay by Theodore Taylor; Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck; To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee; Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys and the play Girl from the North Country by Conor McPherson.
At Leaving Certificate level, the text list for English currently includes Americanah by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie. A number of texts in translation (generally one film and one novel) are also available for study. In the spirit of embracing diversity broadly, currently, the film Mustang by Deniz Gamze Erguven, the memoir If This Is A Man by Primo Levi and the novel Out of Shadows by Jason Wallace are also available for study.
The plays Eclipsed by Patricia Burke Brogan and Tribes by Nina Raine and the novel The Lauras by Sara Taylor explore the experiences of marginalised groups, namely women in the Magdalene laundries, the deaf community and transgender teenagers. The classic novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley offers significant scope to explore the concept of othering in society and to link it to current examples, such as the black lives matter movement.
Achieving a balanced list remains a challenging and worthwhile endeavour and work continues to create a broadly balanced, diverse and inclusive list every year.