Centre for the Study of Conflict|
School of History, Philosophy and Politics,
Faculty of Humanities, University of Ulster
The EMU Promoting School - A Report on a Conference on Education for Mutual Understanding and Cultural Heritage
by Alan Smith
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Centre for the Study of Conflict
University of Ulster
T: (01265) 324666 or 324165
The EMU Promoting School
by Alan Smith
Centre for the Study of Conflict
The Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 introduced Education for Mutual Understanding (EMU), and the related theme of Cultural Heritage, as part of the curriculum for all grant-aided schools in Northern Ireland. The statutory provisions relating to these educational themes came into operation in respect of all pupils in Key Stages 1, 2 and 3 and in the first year of Key Stage 4 from 1 August 1992.
EMU aims and objectives
The Northern Ireland Curriculum Council has produced guidance material which supports the definition that,
Education for Mutual Understanding is about self respect, and respect for others, and the improvement of relationships between people of differing cultural traditions. (NICC, 1990)
The objectives state that as an integral part of their education the themes should enable pupils,
to learn to respect and value themselves and others; to appreciate the interdependence of people within society; to know about and understand what is shared as well as what is different about their cultural traditions; and to appreciate how conflict may be handled in non-violent ways. (NICC, 1990)
There will be no direct assessment of individual pupils concerning EMU and Cultural Heritage. In 1992 a Statutory Order "conjoined" the objectives of EMU and Cultural Heritage thereby emphasising the close relationship between them.
The Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order, 1989 also places a statutory responsibility on school governors to report annually to parents on steps taken to promote EMU.
Although the themes are a mandatory feature of the curriculum, cross community contact with pupils from other schools remains an optional strategy which teachers are encouraged to use. Schools can apply to the Community Relations Branch of the Department of Education for Northern Ireland which makes almost £0.5 million available annually through the Cross Community Contact Scheme. A number of voluntary and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) also offer to support to schools (FOCUS. 1993).
EMU: Perceptions and Policy
The period between the introduction of legislation and the inclusion of EMU in the curriculum by schools provided an opportunity to consider the implications of EMU's transition from a voluntary activity to a statutory requirement. A research project based in the Centre for the Study of Conflict at the University of Ulster investigated how the introduction of EMU was perceived by individuals within various domains of the education system (Smith and Robinson, 1992).
Research and evaluation
This initial research and evaluation confirmed that the inclusion of EMU in the statutory curriculum had been largely unanticipated with less than a third of schools having a policy in place. It has also become clear that teachers' perceptions of the theme and its purpose are diverse and varied and not restricted to community relations issues In Northern Ireland. More universal aspects, such as gender relations, human rights and ethnic diversity in an international context, may be increasingly emphasised as EMU becomes interpreted by a larger number of teachers. In the short term, however, it appears that most schools will rely heavily on a strategy which concentrates on generating more contact between Catholic and Protestant pupils from different schools (approximately a quarter of primary schools and half of second-level schools were involved in cross-community contact during 1990-91).
The research recommendations highlighted the need
As part of a process to disseminate the research and its findings, the researchers facilitated a residential conference involving representatives from different domains of the education system. This conference was entitled, EMU in Transition.
EMU in Transition
The conference EMU in Transition took place in 1992 and addressed some of the issues raised by the research. In particular it provided an opportunity for those involved in the implementation of EMU to begin clarifying a conceptual framework for future development and to identify recommendations concerning co-ordination, training and evaluation.
A 'shared vision'
Although the impetus for EMU had evolved through the commitment of enthusiastic teachers and voluntary bodies over a 20-year period, the transition to a statutory theme meant that all teachers were expected to play a part in implementation. The research by Smith and Robinson (1992) had shown that teachers held many different perceptions of EMU and its purpose. The new climate for development with more teachers involved would require greater clarity of purpose. The conference provided an initial opportunity for representatives from different domains of the education system to identify and agree on a number of elements which provide the basis for a 'shared vision' of EMU. These included:
The conference recognised that the introduction of EMU to the school curriculum brings together a range of voluntary and statutory interests, each with different roles and responsibilities for implementation. A number of recommendations were made which could ensure that implementation and support becomes coherent and less fragmented. These included recommendations that:
Education and training to support EMU emerged as the area which merits highest priority (approximately 17,500 teachers are in daily contact with 330,000 children in over 1,200 schools). At the time of the conference responsibility for in-service training was moving from the Department of Education to the Education and Library Boards and training agendas were to be established in consultation with schools ('market-led'). It was anticipated that priorities for the foreseeable future would relate to curriculum reform within main areas of study and new assessment procedures. The possibility of initial teacher training moving out of higher education and the colleges to become more school-based was also discussed. Within this climate there was anxiety that education and training to support EMU might be neglected and the contribution of voluntary agencies might be marginalised. The conference recommended that:
Given the extent and pace of curriculum reform, the evaluation of EMU and its impact was not a high priority. Participants felt that the contribution of teachers would be in monitoring the extent to which EMU objectives were being achieved internally (in which case support and guidance on self-evaluation and monitoring would be required). Other recommendations were that schools should not undertake measurement of attitude changes in pupils or include direct reference to EMU in records of achievement, but that external, longitudinal research programmes should be established.
The final session brought all participants together and they identified the following issues as the most important:
By the end of the conference it was clear that there were a number of outcomes including the following:
It seemed clear that co-operation within domains had strengthened since the previous conference and this is likely to continue. However, the question of a clearer focus for resources and co-ordination on EMU and Cultural Heritage within the system as a whole remains unresolved.