Sharing Beliefs, Sharing Education: policy and curricular responses to plurality of beliefs in Ireland, North and South

James Nelson, Jones Irwin

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Abstract

This project primarily centred on two symposia designed to facilitate dialogue among stakeholders from across the island of Ireland on issues of Sharing Beliefs Sharing Education in Primary schools. One symposium was held in Dublin City University (St Patrick’s Campus, Drumcondra) and another in Queen’s University Belfast. Each symposium consisted of twelve invited participants who were policy-makers or teacher educators with a particular interest in issues of religion, beliefs and values in education. The focus for each symposium were briefing papers provided by the participants on the project theme. The briefing papers and transcripts of the discussion were analysed by the researchers and, with the help of MaxQDA software, were coded and annotated with memos to work towards the identification of patterns and core conceptual categories. These were developed further through the use of diagrams, reflection on relevant literature and the elaboration of qualitative commentary on the categories to develop a model of religion, education and learning on the island of Ireland. The findings from this study show that while the political systems of North and South are distinct there are significant historical areas of similarity in the approaches taken to teaching about religion, beliefs and values as well as common issues arising from the increasing plurality of religions, cultures and beliefs in classrooms. It is concluded that in both jurisdictions there is a reluctance for state actors to intervene in matters of religion and education with the result that: churches retain significant levels of control over religious education curricula; there is a disconnect between communities of belief, other than Christianity, and curriculum programmes raising issues of fairness and equality; the position of the teacher in relation to identity, belief and professional integrity is not well defined and, as a result, this can cause personal and professional difficulties for teachers. It was also observed that inclusive pedagogical approaches have yet to be confidently owned by teachers in plural classrooms. Finally, the researchers noted an enthusiasm for the development of new ‘spaces’ for religious, beliefs and values education among participants as well as a common view that, considering the religiously separate nature of most education on the island, the opportunities to cultivate shared values of welcome, equality, sharing and reconciliation should be maximised.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages45
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017

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