Thursday, 13 January 2011

Culture Matters (13)

Culture in the classroom (1)

The role of culture in the classroom has long been recognised by educationalists and the extent to which their language and culture are incorporated into the school programme is significantly related to the children’s academic success and personal development.

A Language for Life, otherwise known as the Bullock Report, was published in 1975 and was the report of a committee of inquiry, appointed by the Secretary of State for Education and Science, under the chairmanship of Sir Alan Bullock.  The report stated:
No pupil should be expected to cast off the language and culture of the home as he crosses the school threshold, nor to live and act as though school and home represent two totally separate and different cultures which have to be kept firmly apart.
In the light of this it is important that a pupil’s specific cultural identity and cultural heritage are both recognised and valued in the school. 

Culture in the classroom is right for the children but it is also the right of the children, as set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.  The rights set out in the convention include, among many others, certain cultural rights and relate these to the education system. They are to be found in articles 29, 30 and 31.

Article 29
1. States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to:
(a) The development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential.
(b) The development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and for the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations.
(c) The development of respect for the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own.
(d) The preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin.

This means that the education system should encourage and facilitate the development of respect for the cultural identity, language and values of the home and community from which the child comes.

Article 30
In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities or persons of indigenous origin exist, a child belonging to such a minority or who is indigenous shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of his or her group, to enjoy his or her own culture, to profess and practise his or her own religion, or to use his or her own language.

Article 31
1. States Parties recognise the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.
2. States Parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.

The UNCRC is not directly enforceable in UK courts but that does no in any way diminish the responsibility of the government, and in particular the Department of Education in Northern Ireland, to afford children in all schools the cultural rights contained in the Convention.

That requires a positive commitment and resolute action, including appropriate teacher training, both initial training and in-service training; training for schools governors, who set the ethos of the school, including the cultural ethos; and the provision of appropriate teaching resources.

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