Centre for the Study of Conflict
School of History, Philosophy and Politics,
Faculty of Humanities, University of Ulster
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Pluralism in Education: Conference Proceedings 1996
Published by the Pluralism in Education Standing Conference 1996
Out of Print
Pluralism in Education
Centre for the Study of Conflict
24th November 1995
It is important initially to set our experience in Ireland in context and to see the issues we face in developing, extending and maintaining education systems which support pluralism and cultural enrichment from a comparative perspective. Almost all countries, including almost all the member states of the European Union, include a number of distinct 'ethnic' minorities within their populations. These encompass long established groups distinguished by language, religion, ideology or culture, or by social and economic status and professional activities and also more recent political and economic immigrants. In many cases friction or potential friction between such groups and majority populations or between different minority groups are a cause of concern at local, national and international levels.
The provision of social, economic and political frameworks which facilitate the development of a set of 'inclusive identities'1 is a major policy objective in many parts of the world. For example it was specifically designated as a priority area in the European Union's Fourth Framework Targeted Socio-Economic Research Programme. Developments in this direction imply the establishment of structures which both respect the differing traditions of minorities and promote peaceful collaboration between groups In a wide range of contexts the education system is seen as an important element in policies aimed at supporting these inclusive identities and, as a result, a variety of models have been developed and a large body of experience accumulated. These seek to reconcile claims from some directions that formal, school based education is essentially a homogenising rather than a differentiating process and that it frequently promotes a bland uniformity instead of encouraging diversity and assertions from other quarters that educational initiatives can encourage too much diversity.
The practical importance of addressing these issues has also been underlined; for example, the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, at a meeting focusing on the 'human dimension' of its work held in Copenhagen in 1990, noted that:-
and concluded that part of the solution lay in the development of educational policy since :-
Perhaps the most significant statement by the conference, however, was the assertion that:-
Indeed, much of the actual experience from plural societies indicates that education can play a crucial, if paradoxical, role in multicultural or multiethnic societies by, on the one hand, maintaining separation between communities and, on the other, providing channels for increased contact and understanding. At the centre of many of the debates which this apparent contradiction has generated is the tension between understandings of education which see it as a way of preserving the identity and culture of different groups and those which view it as a way of generating a sense of unity and coherence.3
This balance between education policies and structures which value difference and seek to promote social harmony through respect for difference and those which aim to forge unity through uniformity has tilted in various directions in different contexts. It has varied with geographical location and historical time-period, and the outcomes have been just as various. Its ongoing importance stems partially from the fact that issues of equality and 'inclusiveness' directly affect the ways in which all the more general purposes of education are translated into policy and action. For example, where the emphasis is on the economic value of education, then equitable provision for all groups is central to providing access to qualifications and the opportunity for economic advancement: if the stress is on the social role of education, then achieving goals such as increased democratisation depends on devising systems which are, and are perceived to be, fair to all. Additionally, education is usually charged with objectives relating to the transmission of cultural values and personal development and here again equality cannot be achieved if systems which promote nationalistic or exclusive values are in place.
As a result many plural societies have tried to develop education policies and school systems which provide equality of opportunity as a central democratic right; but which also support intercultural awareness and association, often through contacts between schools with different cultural backgrounds and between pupils and schools and their local communities. This approach leads to initiatives which seek to provide more flexibility and autonomy for schools, teachers, parents and pupils, initiatives which are frequently part of a wider policy in support of 'inclusiveness' through social and economic actions at community level. As a result there is a range of models available across Europe and beyond all of which seek to address and balance the role of education in preserving the culture, language and religious beliefs of all the subgroups in the society and in promoting cohesive national identity.
Attempts to disentangle the interaction of theories policies and actions, or to classify and categorise options, can lead to oversimplification; so subdivisions are often tentative with permeable boundaries. Indeed even defining pluralism poses major problems and may mean different things in different contexts. As Aine Hyland has pointed out in Ireland the Republic's Department of Education defines the system as "pluralist" because equal recognition is given to a range of types of schools - Catholic, Protestant, multidenominational, Jewish, Moslem and Irish medium. In a number of other European countries a "pluralist" school is defined as one where children of all religions and none are equally welcome but the ethos of the school is strictly non-denominational.4 With that qualification, and for the purpose of discussion, the contribution of education to the development of pluralism will be divided between what will be described as structural arrangements and curriculum based actions.
Structural arrangements include the legal and policy frameworks governing the education system and the associated implementation processes, which govern the establishment of schools, their relationship to the national authorities and sub-national communities and their financing. In examining options for pluralism both the range of such structural arrangements and variations in the ways in which they are implemented are important.
At the most general level a comparative examination of education policies provides information about how different societies have located themselves on a continuum between, on the one hand, providing a single national school system to cater for children from all the sub-groups within the country and, on the other, allowing any sub group which wishes, to establish and run schools which reflect its culture and values. Only those societies with very strong commitment to a single exclusive ideology have attempted to construct a completely unitary education system which makes no concessions to cultural, linguistic and religious differences and does not permit any groups to establish separate schools. Even where ideology has dictated such an approach, reality 'on the ground' has frequently forced compromise. In the highly structured and centralised school systems of the former Soviet Union and present day China some concessions to linguistic and cultural differences had to be built into prevailing patterns of centralised and exclusively state provided education.
On the other hand a number of states, whilst allowing schools to be set up outside the state system, have established some form of 'national' education system which is 'neutral' in terms of cultural diversity, encouraging awareness and acceptance of difference but supporting the 'melting pot' model of education as a route to a single national identity. Areas of extensive north European settlement have frequently favoured this approach as a basis for integrating immigrants from diverse backgrounds, so that it provided the basis on which the original education systems of Australia, New Zealand and much of Canada were built. The public school system in the United States is probably the most prominent example of this approach. There during the nineteenth century education provision reflected a formal policy based on the model of :-
In contrast a number of countries have consciously built diversity into the structures of education by providing a national system which is composed of a number of parallel school systems which reflect the major cultural, linguistic or religious groups in the state. For example within the state education system in Wales there are Welsh medium schools, schools which teach bilingually and schools which teach through English. Such arrangements often provide both for those who wish to retain their own specific traditions through separate institutions and also for those who favour integration across diverse groups. The Dutch and Belgian systems represent variants of this approach. In Holland provision has been made for parallel sets of schools reflecting the aspirations of parents who wish their children to have a Catholic education, those who want a Protestant ethos in their children's schools and those who do not wish to have a formal religious input. All are supported financially by the state and accorded equal legislative treatment. In Belgium, Dutch was imposed as the only language of education as late as the 1930's but subsequent formal agreements, particularly the 1956 pact between the public schools and the Catholic schools and the 1972 agreement over language rights have guaranteed state support for education in Dutch in the Flemish areas and education in French in the Walloon areas and for the participation of the churches.6
Clearly multicultural states have to make choices about whether to structure the state's educational provision along unitary or plural lines. But it is equally important that they provide systems and procedures which accommodate those groups who wish to create schools outside the state system. Even where the state supports the needs of a number of major cultural groups in the society, there is often a demand by smaller communities or sub-sets of the larger groupings, to have 'their own' schools and in those countries where the state provides only one form of 'national' school such a move to 'private' provision is almost inevitable. The relationship between the state and such groups is unavoidably complex but it often hinges on interlinked considerations of control and finance. With regard to control, models range from tight regulation of the right to establish schools along with close scrutiny of educational and ideological objectives, to almost total freedom. In many western European countries there is relative flexibility but proposed new schools have to meet requirements in areas such as health and safety regulations, the appointment, qualifications and conditions of service of teachers and the balance and content of the curriculum.. With respect to finance there are examples where full government, or virtually full, support is given to groups wishing to establish schools to reflect their traditions, in Europe these include Spain, Denmark, the Netherlands and Northern Ireland. In other cases schools outside the formal state structure have to raise all or part of their own capital costs (for example France) or to be almost entirely self financing (Greece and Italy). The manoeuvring and negotiation to define the nature of the relationship in each individual case centres on the balance between the right to retain and transmit a distinctive identity and the need to maintain and promote a harmonious plural society. The complexities which this can produce are clearly illustrated by the current debate over Moslem schools and recognition of and support for Islamic culture in several parts of Europe. In Ireland the first Moslem school has been founded, with financial support from the Department of Education, in Britain Moslem schools are allowed to operate but government funding has been withheld. The underlying issues are complex and emotive and include fear of 'Islamic fundamentalism' and gender equality. The education of girls has aroused particular concern so that for example in France the 'the scarf issue', over the right of Moslem girls to wear the 'hijab' in state schools has become an extremely sensitive political problem.
The comparative data available from Europe and beyond illustrates the importance of numerous questions which have direct relevance in the context of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Is the right to determine the form of the education available to one's children a basic human right? Can any individual or group in a society set up schools for its own children and teach them as it deems appropriate, or are there some forms of education which can be defined as unacceptable? Is it necessary for schools established by minority or special interest groups to be subject to some control from outside the founding group? Is it acceptable to use state resources to promote the specific ideologies of minority groups through education? Are some aspects of minority cultures and religions so unacceptable to the majority groups in a society that preventing their propagation through education can be justified? Do all schools in a plural society have a duty to promote inter-group tolerance and respect? How are decisions about these issues to be made and who is competent to make them? Clearly there are no simple answers to any of these questions beyond the limited empirical evidence of what has happened in specific contexts where different models have been applied.
Structural arrangements provide the framework within which education operates, and have a major impact on what actually happens in the classroom - through such things as their effect on funding, the composition and training of the teaching profession, and decisions about viability. At a more immediate day-to-day level, however, the form and content of the curriculum, defined here as the material actually presented in the classroom, is at least as important in the development of pluralism. Indeed curriculum initiatives have been amongst the most important aspects of educational development in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland over the last twenty five years.
The role of curriculum arrangements in promoting 'inclusive identities' is, like all the other aspects of this issue, complicated and potentially controversial. Two important areas are, the degree of regulation of the curriculum exercised by the national government and the extent to which the curriculum is overtly used to try to improve community relations. A range of responses to these issues is possible within any of the structural patterns discussed in the previous section, so structural arrangements and curriculum patterns can operate as dependant or independent variables. In reality they are usually linked even when the links are fairly tenuous. In different countries and at different periods school curricula have operated within frameworks defined at national, regional, school and even individual classroom levels. In plural societies, if the curriculum is to act as a positive force, the important balance is between on the one hand sufficient uniformity to ensure equality of opportunity and an understanding of the diversity in the' society, and on the other, sufficient scope for different groups to express and transmit their culture and traditions and to be assured that their distinctive identity will be valued and respected by others.
A single clearly defined national curriculum can be important in providing a basis of rights, the entitlement which every child can expect, and the importance of this in a fiercely competitive world where qualifications are central to economic advancement is clear. Common definition of the curriculum can also make a positive contribution to the development of pluralism by ensuring that all pupils are made aware of the cultural diversity in their society by stipulating the range of content in subjects such as history and literature.
The problems often arise, however, over how decisions about what is to be included or excluded from a common curriculum are taken and who is to have a voice in the decision making process. The arguments over the content of the literature and history syllabuses in the new national curriculum for England and Wales illustrates the tensions and overt or covert agendas such a process can highlight and even aggravate.
Programmes which seek to promote intergroup understanding have been or are being implemented in most member states of the European Union, sometimes through established curriculum subjects - the cross curricular theme approach - and sometimes through specific timetabled slots for such areas as conflict resolution and mutual understanding. For example within the German school system intercultural education is seen as an 'interdisciplinary principle' not a specific subject and most of the relevant teaching is included in the social science subjects - history, geography and political and citizenship education - or in the arts - drama, creative work and music. In the Basque area of Spain a different approach is taken and there are projects which involve direct teaching about techniques for resolving conflict over cultural differences. Whatever the specifics of the approach, however, there is a danger that a defined curriculum, even when it includes multiculturalism, can marginalise or exclude the traditions and values of some minority groups and can limit the legitimation of particular interpretations of history and culture. In many cases compromise has consisted of the stipulation of a 'core' curriculum as a basis of entitlement for all pupils, augmented by material reflecting the particular needs of different groups, such as denominational religious instruction or education in their own language. In Norway for example a considerable element of control over the content of the curriculum is delegated to local school districts in order to allow culturally distinct areas to express their 'cultural identity'.7
In addition to decisions about curriculum content and how this should reflect the diversity of a plural society consideration also has to be given to whether education, through the curriculum, should play a more active and direct part in supporting multiculturalism. A considerable number of countries do place a duty on schools to take such a role, so that for example in the Netherlands all schools have an obligation to provide 'intercultural' education. This applies both to schools which have a range of cultures represented amongst their pupils and to schools with a homogeneous native Dutch enrolment.8 Where there is division, tension and even open conflict between different ethnic, cultural, linguistic or religious groups active intervention through the schools can be a sensitive and even potentially dangerous area. In particular careful thought may have to be given to whether work which involves pupils from separate schools representing different traditions working together is appropriate. In Northern Ireland Education for Mutual Understanding and Cultural Heritage are statutory elements in the curriculum but the method of implementation is left to the professional judgement of staff. Work which involves contact between children from controlled (de facto Protestant) and maintained (de facto Catholic) schools is encouraged but it is recognised that in some geographical locations and at some times this is not practicable and could even be counterproductive. In such situations schools still have a duty to introduce the issues which create division in the society and indeed it has been suggested that the initial phases of work on contentious issues may be most productively handled in what are sometimes referred to as 'single tradition' groups.9
Again the arguments and the options proliferate. Does the deliberate inclusion of material aimed to fostering 'inclusive identities' constitute a legitimate goal of education or is it a form of social engineering which curtails freedom? Can good community relations be taught? How effective have the schemes which have been implemented across a range of countries proved? Can they be counterproductive? Should such material be introduced in first level schools or only with older pupils? Can it be effective if presented in formal classroom situations or are more informal contexts needed?
To date there is considerable data about the design of programmes and implementation of initiatives but much less convincing evaluation of outcomes. This is perhaps inevitable, since attempting to improve community relations through school-work is a long term objective, and most of the programmes which can be studied have not been in operation long enough to make evaluation of long term effects feasible. Additionally determining the impact of particular initiatives over a long time frame, during which many other changes relevant to community relations are likely to have occurred, is always going to be extremely difficult.
In spite of the problems and the considerable amount of controversy over strategy, many countries are developing programmes which utilise the education system to support the development of peaceful plural societies. At the least there appears to be a degree of consensus that schools are places where young people from different social and cultural backgrounds have the potential to learn to co-operate. To support such initiatives, however, the positive involvement of parents, teachers, pupils and the wider society is essential. In particular parents must be kept informed of activities such as joint programmes between schools serving different communities, teachers must be given support and training in areas where they may initially feel insecure and pupils must see the initiatives as interesting and worthwhile To fulfil all these criteria sophisticated models which address both the need to forge cohesion and the need to value diversity are required and this is likely to imply an imaginative choice from existing options and openness to quite new ideas.
Rapporteur: Seamus Dunn
While the promotion of pluralism in the formal process and period of education - that is during the time spent in school - was thought to be relatively easy to initiate, its centrality within a broader understanding of the nature of education itself was thought to be of equal importance. Such an understanding would include, not just the formal and institutional aspects of education, but education as an implicit component of a more general world, both personal and social. The results of this enlarged vision would ensure a wider level and range of meanings, actions and relevance in any realisation of pluralism as an aspect of education. For example, such a wider interpretation would take account of such matters as the growth of secularism in society generally, the increasing importance and relevance of youth education, informal education, inter-school projects such as those developed by Co-operation North, and so on. It was also thought important to be able to interpret pluralism itself as widely as possible. The obvious interpretations relate to ethnicity, religion, language and colour; but gender, disability. unemployment, the elderly, and a whole range of the marginalised in society are also important factors.
Within formal education, a movement towards pluralism would involve a range of changes, with respect to matters such as attitudes, curricula, teacher training, and so on. Such changes can often be a slow business, involving the tedious chipping away at prejudice and imbalance; however, it was thought that, when there was a will and when workable procedures were put in place, then change could occur very quickly and efficiently. Changes in fair employment practices in Northern Ireland were cited as an example of such a transformation, where the changes was one of attitude as well as a change in law.
It was thought that pluralism within societies where ethnic and other differences can lead to conflict - and violence - has a particular importance, and this raised the question as to whether or not 'conflict resolution' can be taught. Two contexts were described where feasible and significant activities could be thought to constitute forms of conflict resolutions. One related to the practical managerial structures and day-to-day social life of a good school, it was suggested that these structures constituted within themselves conflict resolution teaching of a most important kind; the second related to a number of practical techniques and projects, such as peer mediation training - currently being taught in some schools, which could be interpreted as a significant approach to teaching resolution.
The importance of symbols, and of symbolic acts, meetings, interchanges and so on, was stressed. Within any society much of the iconography, literature, public acts and other communal processes arose out of particular cultures and heritages: symbolic acts within education serve important and powerful purposes. It was stressed that it was of importance to examine all symbolisms with regard to their cross-community content and impact, and to be aware of the inherent danger of using them to build the symbolic walls and barriers between groups.
There was some anxiety that education should not be presented as the sole - or even the most important - agent that can make a significant contribution to the process of understanding and shaping a new pluralist Ireland, North and South. Education, it was thought, helps to shape society, but is also a response to existing forces within society. There was an equal danger of using the sociological notion of 'unripe' time (the time is not yet ripe) to argue the need to wait for a better time, or for a time when relevant educational changes seem more suitable.
Although sensible and socially productive changes within education were supported, it was felt that there were difficult and complex questions surrounding words such as tolerance (and toleration) and that there were therefore limits with regard to the extent to which some forms of change were likely to be completely acceptable. For some, these are matters which are not negotiable. In particular, the belief that religious revelation is a source of knowledge independent of simple rationality, and that, even when revelation is redefined in terms of dynamic revelation, there still remains faith and belief which cannot be avoided or wished away. In this regard, the sometimes competing claims of different sources of revelation (Islam and Christian, for example) were raised with regard to the consequences of non-negotiation. Post-modernism seemed for some an answer to this dilemma, as a location where judgements can be constantly revised. or where apparent rationality need not be the final arbiter.
The creation of integrated schools in Northern Ireland has for some been quite dramatic and intensely positive development, but for others it was as yet disturbing and worrying. Mention was made of a degree of hurt and lack of appreciation caused by the implication, and sometimes the overt message, that non-integrated schools were in some way not dealing with community relations issues. Because of such anxieties and differing views, the existence of statistical or research data which contradicted perceptions, about funding, for example, or about the class structure of the pupils enrolled. was not enough to change views which were maintained in spite of the evidence.
The range of reasons why parents chose integrated schools was also discussed with the view held by some that, since there was such a range of motives, this in some way invalidated the quality and the raison d'être of such schools.
Arising out of many of these differing views and perceptions there was a final discussion about how best to evaluate social change, how to measure its effectiveness and its degree of success. Evaluation, it was felt, was a complex business and, if it was to be illuminating and worthwhile, was likely to be a long term process.
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