07 SES 11 B, Divisions and Transformation
This proposal outlines some of the key findings from a three-year qualitative research project that investigated citizenship education and education rights in the divided societies of Northern Ireland and Israel. The over-arching research question of the project was as follows:
How does citizenship education in Northern Ireland and Israel reflect understandings of education rights, particularly the international human rights obligations that education be ‘acceptable’ and ‘adaptable’?
In order to fully address this question, the following subsidiary issues were considered:
How are the obligations that education be ‘acceptable’ and ‘adaptable’ reflected in policy and curriculum documents in Northern Ireland and Israel?
How do key stakeholders (students, teachers and policy-makers) of citizenship education in Northern Ireland and Israel interpret ‘acceptable’ and ‘adaptable’ within citizenship education, and how is this reflected in practice?
The current proposal focuses on the latter question, and on a particular theme that emerged; namely, it considers how and to what extent citizenship education in these two jurisdictions offers students in secondary-level education preparation for life outside of school and for their transition into post-school adulthood, by means of interviews with students, teachers and policy-makers.
The research problem to which these research questions relate is one which has at its heart the contested role of education and the difficulty of delivering a common citizenship education programme to a diverse group in a divided and conflict-affected society. It is often suggested that education in ethnically, religiously or socio-politically divided societies can play a constructive or a destructive role in addressing conflict; it may contribute towards the transformation of a conflict-affected society, but it also may be viewed as a tool in socialisation into the divided status quo, insofar as it is a way of passing on cultures and ways of life, and creating a person (Bush & Saltarelli, 2000; Podeh, 2000; Randall, Cooper & Hite, 1999). From such a value-laden perspective, the role of education in general and citizenship education in particular may be contested in societies divided along ethno-national lines, where conceptions of citizenship, identity and national belonging vary, and thus where divisions can be highly complex and long-standing. In the two case jurisdictions that are the focus of this study, Northern Ireland and Israel, the aims of the common and compulsory citizenship education curriculum include learning about diversity, equality and human rights, and preparing young people to be active citizens who respect democratic principles (Partnership Management Board, 2007; Cohen, 2013). Nevertheless, both societies still experience ethno-national division and inequality, not least within the education system, where most young people attend school alongside only those of the same religion or ethnicity – Catholic or Protestant in Northern Ireland, and Arab-Palestinian or Jewish in Israel (Osborne, 2004; Tatar, 2004).
There has been a wide range of research within citizenship education (see, for example, Kerr, 1999; Torney-Purta et al, 2001; Osler & Starkey, 2010; Niens, O’Connor & Smith, 2013). However, the potential for the purportedly universal nature of human rights, and related international obligations in respect of education rights, to offer a fresh, unifying perspective and some guidance as to how education should prepare a diverse group of young people for life in a divided society has received little attention. Therefore, this is the gap which this research seeks to address. The international obligations that education be ‘acceptable’ and ‘adaptable’, based on Tomaševski’s 4-A framework for education rights, which itself is based on the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1966 (ICESCR), and interpretations made by stakeholders, form the legal framework for this research, as well as offering a starting point for exploration (UN CESCR, 1999; Tomaševski, 2001).
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