Northern Ireland - a Question of Education?
Heaney, Liam F., Contemporary Review
FEW who have read widely on the subject and who have regularly watched news reports on Northern Ireland would disagree with the statement of Dermot Quinn, that 'the Northern Ireland problem has deep roots'.(1) There is quite clearly a religious, cultural and a political dimension to Northern Ireland's 'troubles' each intricately intertwined and interlinked like the gossamer threads in a spider's web. Indeed, such are the complexities of the Northern Ireland situation that Rose in 1976 concluded that 'the problem is that there is no solution'.(2)
Much has been written about Northern Ireland over the years and many researchers have sought to assess the effects of the persistent violence on the population at large and on children and young people in particular. Indeed, Children in Conflict (1973), A Society Under Stress: Children and Young People in Northern Ireland (1980), Children of the Troubles (1983), Caught in Crossfire: Children and the Northern Ireland Conflict (1987) and Growing up in Northern Ireland (1989) to name but a few, are some of the publications that offer in depth studies of life in Northern Ireland. In these works, and in others, there is an attempt to explore a range of factors, such as unemployment, poor housing, poverty, absenteeism, attitude formation, social identity and stereotyping, that impinge upon and influence the lives of those who live in Northern Ireland.
Other works, such as, Northern Ireland: A Psychological Analysis (1980), Interpreting Northern Ireland (1990), Chains to be Broken (1992) and Understanding Northern Ireland (1993) offer psychological, historical, political, religious and social perspectives on Northern Ireland's problems.
However, in spite of the intense search for understanding and for a solution to the problems, the conflict and the turmoil continue unabated since August 1969, when the troops were sent in to restore order. From political commentators and seasoned journalists it would appear that violence in Northern Ireland is unlikely to end for some time to come. This is quite clearly a pessimistic and some may say a hopeless situation, where Dante's memorable, if not chilling description, 'Abandon hope, all ye who enter here' would not be too much out of place. However, hope is something that we all must have if we are to cope with the daily hardships of life. This is particularly relevant for those living in Northern Ireland.
However, there is another side to life in Northern Ireland, one which does not achieve front page coverage or much media recognition yet arguably it offers the most positive and encouraging prospect for the future. The education system and school life in general in Northern Ireland continues to function effectively and succeeds in achieving and maintaining high standards, a normality and a sense of order, in a society that has been beleaguered by violence for more than twenty-five years.
Harbison (1980) in A Society Under Stress, showed that children in Northern Ireland were resilient and were able to cope with the stress of violence.(3) Having worked with children from a variety of social and religious backgrounds for more than eighteen years, it would appear that children in Northern Ireland do indeed have a resilience which helps shield them in some way from the violence in their environment. This is not to say that children are oblivious to or that they are unaffected by the troubles that are part and parcel of their daily lives. Indeed, Heskin (1980), among others, has shown that the conflict and strife in Northern Ireland society may have long-term effects on children.(4)
However, there does appear to be a 'coping mechanism' which children are particularly adept at using in such circumstances. Of course, it is important to remember that children are individuals and each responds to violence in different ways. Clearly, some children will be emotionally traumatised by what they hear, see and experience of the Northern Ireland conflict. …