Belfast Telegraph

Backlash over homework quizzing primary pupils about Provos and UDA

By Chris Kilpatrick

Homework packs which quizzed seven-year-olds on Northern Ireland terror groups have been withdrawn after a furious backlash from parents.

Primary school pupils were asked to identify the two main terrorist organisations in the region, with a drawing of an exploding bomb and questions on al-Qaeda elsewhere in the paperwork.

They were also asked to match the descriptions for a loyalist and republican to the titles.

North Lanarkshire Council said the homework pack, sent out by New Stevenston Primary in Motherwell, was a mistake and the terror section is now obsolete.

The council is contacting all schools in the area asking them not to use it.

Angry parents shared pictures of the homework, titled 'Terrorism and Terror -Case Study: Separatists', on social media.

The paper asked: "Which of the following are TWO of the main terrorist groups in Northern Ireland? al-Qaeda, IRA, HAMAS, UDA?" It then asks pupils: "Match the name of LOYALIST or REPUBLICAN to the correct description of the group's aim:

"This group want N.Ireland to remain a part of the UK.

"This group wants N.Ireland to be united with the rest of Ireland."

In another section children were told: "Palestinians feel that they have the RIGHT to use terrorism against the Israelis.

"Give TWO reasons why they feel this. Use the information to help you.

"Describe two examples of Palestinian terrorist activities."

Below the text was a cartoon drawing of an explosion.

One of those who posted the pictures online wrote: "These are actual homework questions given to children in New Stevenston Primary School as part of their curriculum.

"It's definitely not good, it's factually incorrect and divisive. Anyone with an ounce of intellect knows that."

Aliyah Shafiq, from Motherwell, posted the image of the homework sheet on Facebook and wrote: "How is my little sister being made to answer questions like this for her homework? This is completely unacceptable and has to be complained about to North Lanark shire Council."

North West Friends of Peace branded the sheet and nature of the questions "shocking".

A spokesman for North Lanarkshire Council's Learning and Leisure Services said: "The homework material used was taken from a teaching pack which is now obsolete.

"We are contacting all schools to ensure this particular material is no longer used.

"The topic is explored by pupils as part of the social studies programme "People, past events and societies" and this includes conflict situations around the world.

"This topic aims to gives pupils a greater understanding of the nature of different conflicts and their regional, global and historical significance and does not pass any judgment on the subject."

Perhaps children should be warned of dangers, says Malachi O’Doherty

How do you talk to children about terrorism? One answer is not to do it at all, but some will be curious when they see bombings and hostage crises on the news. Worse, some may find themselves close to violent incidents.

They will certainly have questions to ask when bombers strike near their homes, kill their neighbours. And we are routinely advised that the threat level is severe. So, perhaps we should be preparing children to understand the dangers they live with. And isn’t it better that responsible educators inform them than that they learn from apologists and bigots?

The difficulty arises in the presumption that anyone is entirely objective and even that the word “terrorism” really describes a coherent phenomenon.

Some rash pedagogues stumbled into being ridiculed on Facebook and in the media for their clumsy efforts to get seven-year-olds briefed on Hamas, the IRA and Ulster loyalists.

The worksheet given to children at a primary school in Motherwell provided an image of an explosion that might have been copied from the Beano and, with that clue in place, asked children to describe two types of terrorist activity used by Palestinians.

It’s not a hard question. But the children might wonder why they have to know the answers. Their parents certainly did. Because simplifying political violence always misrepresents it. It never is simple. Telling children that “Palestinians think they have the right to use terrorism against the Israelis” makes all Palestinians guilty and all Israelis innocent.

The children were asked to tick two out of four terrorist organisations which were active in Northern Ireland. You would have to be fairly ill-informed to imagine that al-Qaida, or Hamas, might have been one of the right answers. Similarly, defining the UDA and the IRA simply by their constitutional preferences implies that everyone who wants a united Ireland is a terrorist and, incidentally, that everyone who opposes a united Ireland is a terrorist, too.

What about starting, if you must, by explaining that people all over the world are much like each other and that most of them — whatever their grievances — will never want to bomb you?

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