07 SES 04 A, Transition and Intercultural Learning
The aim of this paper is to discuss the findings from an impact evaluation of a curriculum programme (located in history and citizenship curricula) designed to engage young people directly with conflict, its legacy and transition to peace in a conflict-affected society (Northern Ireland).
The choice of knowledge transmitted in the curriculum in societies emerging from conflict can have consequences for how education is positioned as either a factor in creating or exacerbating conflict or as a transformative component of peace-building (Author 1, 2013). Education should seek therefore to address the impact of conflict on children, and develop understanding of the nature of conflict in order to assist in its resolution (Tawil and Harley, 2004). Arguably, this requires a repositioning of the concept of ‘conflict’ in the school curriculum. As Davies (2004: 25) observes, conflict is often presented in peace education initiatives as a ‘contextual issue rather than one which needs to be addressed head on’. Whilst citizenship education provides one vehicle through which conflict could be understood, in transitional contexts, where processes which seek to misrepresent the past can result in conflict reappearing in future generations (Cohen, 2001), history education has a crucial role to play in ‘narrowing the space for permissible lies’ (Ignatieff, 2003: 78) and ensuring that past grievances are addressed (Author 1, 2007). Thus an enhanced relationship between history and citizenship education has the potential to contribute to young people’s understanding of conflict and conflict transformation (Author 1, 2012).
Context and conceptual underpinning of the programme
The conflict known colloquially as ‘The Troubles’ had a significant impact on Northern Ireland’s small population, creating a challenging societal milieu for a prolonged peace process in a transitional context which is characterised by segregation and disrupted by residual violence. Thus, young people in Northern Ireland are ‘growing up in a politically complex society where the peace, though relatively stable, is not altogether secure and where the effects of violence and the factors which generated, exacerbated and sustained the conflict are not altogether in the past’ (Author 1, 2013: 23).
Unsurprisingly the Northern Ireland curriculum seeks to address issues associated with the divided nature of this society. This is achieved largely through a statutory citizenship curriculum, in which addressing sectarianism and conflict resolution is mandated, and a statutory history curriculum, which has at its core the antecedents of the more recent phase of conflict in Ireland. Young people however report only superficial engagement in school with the more complex and contentious aspects of citizenship in a divided society, such as community conflict (University of Ulster, 2010).
It is within this context that the programme, ‘From Prison to Peace: learning from the experience of political ex-prisoners’ was developed: a twelve week programme designed for use in post-primary schools within the citizenship and history curricula. Based on the narratives of fifteen ex-prisoners, who were involved in the conflict as members of loyalist and republican ‘paramilitary’ combatant groups, the programme explores: reasons why people became involved in conflict; the impact of prison; and the contribution of former combatants to conflict transformation. Young people are also provided with opportunities to engage directly in dialogue with former combatants in order to explore further the issues related to their narratives. The programme thus seeks to develop within young people an understanding of the nature, reality and complexity of conflict and transition to peace. In particular it seeks to engender a sense of ‘political generosity’, that is a confidence in young people in their own political/cultural identity alongside a respect for the rights of others to hold alternative political views (Author 1, 2012).
Author 1. 2007 Author 1. 2012 Author 1. 2013 Author 1, . 2014 Cohen, S. 2001. States of denial. Cambridge: Polity Press. Davies, L. 2004. Conflict and education: complexity and chaos. London: RoutledgeFalmer. Ignatieff, M. 2003. The warrior’s honor: ethnic war and the modern conscience. London: Vintage. McGarry, J., and B. O’Leary. 1995. Explaining Northern Ireland. Oxford: Blackwell. Tawil, S., and A. Harley. 2004. Education, conflict and social cohesion. Geneva: International Bureau of Education. University of Ulster. 2010. Evaluation of local and global citizenship: Final report. Coleraine: University of Ulster.
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