ERG SES C 01, Curriculum and Education
What children should learn? And for what purpose? Are questions that are the focus of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment's (NCCA) work. In recent years the NCCA has contributed a number of significant milestones to the development of Irish primary education. The development of Aistear- the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework, set a new direction for the experiences of children in infant classrooms. The recently completed integrated Language Curriculum breaks new ground in connecting children’s language learning. Most recently, and the focus of this research, NCCA are developing a curriculum in Education about Religions and Beliefs (ERB) and Ethics breaking further new ground in primary education.
Currently there is no state provision for children, attending Irish primary schools, to learn about religions, beliefs and ethics. The value of such learning has been highlighted by the Council of Europe (2014) and from The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (2007). The development of a curriculum in ERB and Ethics is to ensure that every child has access to structured, coherent and incremental learning in this area, and to ensure the good practices that already take place in schools are recognised and supported through the curriculum.
As Director of Curriculum and Assessment the researcher investigates the question: ‘What are the Opportunities and Challenges in the Development of a Curriculum in Education about Religions and Beliefs and Ethics for the Irish Primary Sector?’ The question is examined from two perspectives. Firstly the conceptual and theoretical underpinning of the proposed curriculum and secondly, the implementation of the proposed curriculum at school level. It is intended through the presentation of the findings and recommendations of this research that those working in curriculum design and innovation internationally will come to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the complexities that arise in this area of education.
An obvious systemic factor is the unique composition of the Irish primary school system, with 96% of primary schools owned and managed by faith-based organisations. Furthermore the strong legislative foothold (Education Act, 1998, section 32-d) pertaining to the right of patrons to develop, implement and monitor religious programmes which currently occupy the Religious Education curriculum space into which the proposed curriculum in ERB and Ethics will be entering. Add these conditions to the already ‘overloaded’ Primary School Curriculum (NCCA, 2008) and the task that emerges becomes complex.
In such a contested curricula arena, an interpretive theoretical framework provides oxygen to facilitate opposing and often incompatible views on the aims and purposes of this new curriculum for primary schools. The focus of this research is on the perceptions of those working in the field of education and so the interpretative approach facilitates the individual’s perspective that has evolved from the nature of their experience in the field. The research is concerned with understanding the experience of those working in the field and documenting the opportunities and challenges they perceive in the development of a curriculum in Education about Religions and Beliefs (ERB) and Ethics. Understanding that ‘pedagogy is never innocent’ (Bruner, 1996, p. 63) the researcher attempts to understand that multiple, socially constructed realities can co-exist and often contradict each other from the perspective of the participant. The experience of minority faith groups in particular have often been underrepresented in the development of curriculum in Ireland, this research attempts to come to an understanding of how their beliefs should be represented in a state curriculum.
Barbour, R. & Kitzinger, J. (1999). Developing Focus Group Research: Politics, Theory and Practice, London. Sage. Berg, B.L. 1995. Qualitative Research Methods for the Social Sciences. (Second Edition). Boston: Allyn and Bacon. Bruner, J. (1996). The culture of education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Council of Europe. (2014). Signposts-Policy and practice for teaching about religions and non-religious world views in intercultural education. Strasbourg, Cedex. Gergen, K. J. 1982. Toward Transformation is Social Knowledge. New York: Springer- Verlag. Henning, E., van Rensburg, W. and Smit, B. 2004. Finding your way in Qualitative Research. Hatfield: Van Schaik. Hollway, W. and Jefferson, T. 2000. Doing qualitative research differently: Free association, narra-tive and the interview method. London: Sage. NCCA (2008). Primary Curriculum Review: Phase 2 (Gaeilge, Science, SPHE). Dublin: NCCA. http://www.ncca.ie/en/Publications/Reports/Primary_Curriculum_Review,_Phase_2_Final_report_ with_recommendations.pdf The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights ODIHR (2007). Toledo Guiding Principles on teaching about Religions and Beliefs in Public Schools. Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Warsaw.
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