Education for Mutual Understanding: The Initial Statutory Years

Alan Smith, Alan Robinson

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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. The former Northern Ireland Curriculum Council produced guidance material to support 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 is 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 for financial support from the Cross Community Contact Scheme administered by the Community Relations Branch of the Department of Education for Northern Ireland. A number of voluntary and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) also offer various forms of support to schools (FOCUS, 1995). EMU: Perceptions and Policy The period between the introduction of legislation and the inclusion of EMU in the curriculum 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 and was published as a report, EMU: Perceptions and Policy (Smith and Robinson, 1992). This initial research 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 also became clear that teachers' perceptions of the theme and its purpose were diverse and varied and not restricted to community relations issues in Northern Ireland alone. Teachers also identified more universal aspects, such as gender relations, human rights and ethnic diversity in a European and international context as deriving naturally from the aims of EMU. In the short term, however, a survey Indicated that most schools would rely heavily on a strategy which concentrates on generating more contact between Catholic and Protestant pupils from different schools. This is reflected in the number of schools involved in Department of Education, Cross Community Contact Scheme which has grown steadily since its introduction in 1987. In 1987 only 13% of primary and 24% of second-level schools were involved. In 1991 this had risen to 23% of primary and 39% of secondary. By 1994 42% of primary and 59% of second level schools were involved in cross community contact through the Scheme (see Chapter 4). The first phase of the evaluation had therefore established some base lines in terms of perceptions of EMU within the system, levels of cross-community contact and views on strategies for implementation. Recommendations from the research highlighted the need: to clarify the conceptual framework for EMU; · to promote better co-ordination concerning EMU within and between the various domains of the education system: · to give more priority to teacher education and training in EMU; to clarify long term strategies for the evaluation of EMU.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherUlster University
Number of pages107
Publication statusPublished - 1996


  • education mutual understanding northern ireland


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