Ireland society and begin to see that belief,

 Ireland has been and still is a country of
segregation. Our history tells us stories of battles and wars, Irishmen versus
Englishmen, Catholic versus Protestant, Gaeilge versus the English Language, there
has always been cause for division in our society. It is our education system
that has mirrored this conflict, having the beginning of the national school
system in 1831, and the empowerment of the Catholic church following the
famine. Our education system has been dealt with a challenging hand throughout
the years. In more recent times we can look at our society and begin to see
that belief, gender, ability, ethnicity, and social class are causing the same
type of segregation there has been for so many years already. In agreement with
the given statement to which this essay formed, there are ‘difficulties in the
equal recognition, inclusion and accommodation of difference at both systematic
and local levels in Irish primary education’. However, this cannot allow for
the lack of opportunity for the children of Ireland in today’s society, no
matter their beliefs, race or gender.

 

From the
research I have conducted to write this essay, Religion in Irish society has
been one of the major causes of segregation within the community and the education
system (Coolahan,1981). Catholic beliefs and Protestant beliefs have divided
our country for centuries. In present times and in the past other minority
faith groups have been in Ireland, such as Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist, however,
it remains that the majority of the country consider themselves to be Roman
Catholic (Census, 2016).

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 In 1831, as I have mentioned before, the
national school system was established and its policies aimed to have an
inter-denominational structure in place for the diverse culture of Ireland.

Catering to differing religious backgrounds (Devine et al, 2004). It was
because of a letter that Lord Edward Stanley sent to the Duke of Leinster
asking him to become the chairperson of the national board (Hyland, 1987). In
the letter’s suggestions, a Board of National Education was established. It proposed
to distribute funds across the country for school building, the hiring of
educators and inspectors and also provided grants for schools. The letter suggested
mixing both Catholic and Protestant children in schools, favoring a multidenominational
ethos (ibid).

In spite of
this, the Catholic church was displeased and pushed for Irish primary schools to
be segregated by Religion (Hyland, 1996).

By the beginning
of the 20th century, most state-funded schools in Ireland had fallen
under the hand of the Church, while the Catholic church gained control over
policy decisions and pedagogy approaches within the schools (Coolahan, 1981). Understanding
that this piece of history in the context of education in Ireland has had a
major impact on the diversity of schools in our country today. With almost 90%
of primary schools still presented as Catholic primary schools, equal
recognition, inclusion and accommodation of different religious backgrounds in
these school can be difficult.

This is also an opportunity
for ‘symbolic violence’ (Bryan, 2010), to happen within a primary school setting
among children. Coolahan, 1981, states that children from all religious backgrounds and ethnicities are welcome in Catholic
schools and that they can be included in the religious education lessons or can “be excluded if their parents
specifically intervened to request such exclusion”.

However, in
Bryan’s article Corporate
multiculturalism, diversity management, and positive interculturalism in Irish
schools and society, schools that try to adopt an anti-racism and
interculturism concept, unknowingly produce a ‘minority group benefiting the
majority group’, which still leaves the perception of a superior group within
the school setting, which Bryan names “symbolic violence”. Although there is
logic in her thinking and understanding of schools trying to celebrate
diversity, I believe it is a harsh way to look at it.

 

When discussing gender,
ability, ethnicity, and social class in the primary education setting in Ireland
today in the case of segregation and the difficulties in the equal recognition,
inclusion and accommodation of diversity that follows them, we can look through
the lens of history, sociology and philosophy. Socrates tells us that “the
awareness of one’s ignorance – is missing”. Whatever way scholars, researchers
and teachers look at diversity within the social construct of the Irish primary
classroom, majority of the time the children themselves are unaware of the
differences due to their childhood innocence. Their innocence also may
contribute to their misconception or misunderstanding of racism and bullying.

However, according to Brookfield, 2011, ‘Ideology is learned not just through
the spoken or written word but also through behaviour’, it is in this case that
the school and its teachers address issues such as this accordingly.

 

Research
suggests that immigrant children and children from the travelling community are
more likely to be bullied in school than children from middle-class backgrounds
(Bryan, 2010).

 However, it is evident
that the Irish education system strives to ensure the inclusion of every child,
no matter their social background, gender or ethnicity. The 99′ Irish Primary School
Curriculum states that ‘regardless of race, ethnicity, religious belief is
respected’. There is a clear determination being made by the NCCA to eliminate
the ‘tradition’ of segregation in our primary school system. The division of
social class, ethnicity and ability does not go unnoticed in schools across the
country. There are many programmes put in place to include and accommodate children
from lower class families or ethnic backgrounds (Irish traveller, migrants
etc.), such as DEIS schools. DEIS schools were established to help children who
are at risk or who are experiencing educational disadvantage (Department of
Education and Skills, 2005).

It is also
through subjects such as Mindfulness programmes as well as SPHE that are now in
place in schools across the entire country, that children will be now
introduced to and taught how to treat people in an appropriate manner and respectfully,
which is needed to consolidate equality in the school and classroom setting
(NCCA, 1999).

A more difficult
matter, I believe, is the differentiation and divide between gender. In ‘School Sector Variation Among Primary
Schools in Ireland’, by Dr Merike Darmody, Dr Emer Smyth and Dr Selina
McCoy, found that all multi-denominational schools as well as all minority faith
schools were coeducational, meaning they are mixed gender schools. 88% of Catholic
schools were coeducational, however, 8% of the schools were all boy schools and
a further 5% were all girl schools. This is a significant finding, as it again
draws back to schools under authority of the Catholic Church that segregation
is evident.

In recent years
gender has become a topical issue and point of discussion around the world,
with many articles being published promoting gender equality and cultural
change (Inglehart and Norris, 2003). Gender issues in society like same sex-marriage
and changes in family structure have been at the core of a lot of social media
in recent times. These issues seem to be advocated by the younger generation of
Ireland, which creates an opportunity for teachers in our schools to talk and
to teach about topical social studies within a safe classroom environment. When
analysing Brookfield’s 2011 research, he says ‘Ideologies are the sets of
beliefs and practices that are accepted by the majority as common-sense ways of
organising the world’, which supports my previous statement that sociological
and philosophical issues in today’s society in Ireland can make perceived
differences, the norm ‘at both systematic and local levels in Irish primary
education’ (Lodge et al, 2004).

 In relation to gender segregation within the
school setting, Hill and Pollack, 1993, discussed how in the past girls were ‘often
required to leave school as soon as possible to help look after younger
children, a sick mother or a widowed father’. This situation was present within
the Irish society, in particular, in large or lower-middle class families, when
earning money for the family outweighed the importance of a good education
(Rees, 1993).

Coolahan informs us that both boys
and girls studied reading, writing, spelling and maths from 1872 to 1899.

However, girls were also expected to study subjects such as needle-work and
grammar, while boys took on subjects such as agriculture (Coolahan, 1981).  In todays society, fortunately, this is not
the case and all boys and girls of all ethnicities, social class and ability are
given the same opportunities in school as each other (NCCA,1999).  Dewey, 1910, says that using ‘past experience and
prior knowledge’, can give the child a voice and opinion, instead of having neither
like in the past. The understanding of history, sociology and philosophy for a
child is the key to having a more connected and excepting community, which is
so importantly established in the early years of a child’s life, in and out of
the primary school setting.

 

Major change has
happened around the world to the tradition of segregation in schools, both formally
and informally. Diversity, being the belief, gender, ability, ethnicity, or the
social class difference between children, it is now being given equal
recognition, inclusion and accommodation, both at systematic and local levels
in Irish primary education. It has been difficult for these changes to come
into fruition, and there is still work to be done, so that the children of
Ireland do not have any assumptions of differentiation being a ‘bad’ thing and they
celebrate diversity as the ‘norm’ in their school and community. I believe in
order to keep progressing in the acceptance and inclusion of diversity in our
Irish schools and society, educators need to practice what has been said by educational
philosopher John Dewey, ‘If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s,
we rob them of tomorrow.’ Forward movement in our Irish education system
in social studies and understanding of diversity is what I believe to be the crucial
part in eliminating the difficulties that follow the equal recognition,
inclusion and accommodation of difference within the Irish primary education.