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Editor's Viewpoint

School history lessons hold key to integration

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History teaching in Northern Ireland is a bit like the schoolboy definition of parallel lines - they don't get any closer the further apart they go

History teaching in Northern Ireland is a bit like the schoolboy definition of parallel lines - they don't get any closer the further apart they go

PA Archive/PA Images

History teaching in Northern Ireland is a bit like the schoolboy definition of parallel lines - they don't get any closer the further apart they go

Protestants and Catholics have shared the six counties of political entity called Northern Ireland for almost a century and therefore have a long shared history.

The two communities may have had different experiences of what it was like living in this partitioned part of the island but as far as teaching history goes they may as well have lived in separate countries.

As our story today reveals, most Protestant pupils learn a history which covers the period from 1920 to 1949 while an even greater proportion of Catholics learn about the years from 1965-98 when the campaign for civil rights spiralled out of control into the Troubles, although ending in a first-time power-sharing administration.

History teaching in Northern Ireland is a bit like the schoolboy definition of parallel lines - they don't get any closer the further apart they go.

This subject is a damning indictment of the twin education systems in Northern Ireland. Children are at their most receptive - and often at their most perceptive - during their latter schooldays, but if they are taught only one segment of history they are being denied the opportunity to question beliefs or to find out what makes the other community tick.

We only have to look at the recent sectarian violence in north Belfast to see how ignorance breeds unthinking hatred. If young people have no idea what their peers in the other community believe they become malleable cannon fodder for their more malevolent elders.

Can young people gathered around a bonfire festooned with effigies of Catholic religious figures or politicians ever question why those effigies are there, other than as hate figures or can they ever understand why Catholics find such behaviour grossly offensive?

Similarly can those young people who chant 'Up the 'RA' or similar slogans realise that they are merely fermenting division and allowing conflict to thrive.

It is often said that we must learn the lessons of history and ensure that we don't make those same mistakes again. Yet how can we avoid such errors if the lessons of history are in themselves divisive and tell only that part of the past which suits each community's social narrative. If ever there was an argument for greater integration in education then surely it is contained in the way history is taught. We need to make history inclusive.

Belfast Telegraph