A critical exploration of intercultural education in a post-primary school in Ireland with particular reference to travellers
Mc Ginley, Hannagh
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This dissertation is about intercultural education in a post-primary school setting and Travellers’ experiences of education. Based within one very diverse post-primary DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools, Department of Education and Skills, 2005) school in the west of Ireland with a high concentration of disadvantage, this study examines how an intercultural approach to education was understood and implemented with regard to Travellers, from both staff and student perspectives (Traveller students, ‘other’ non-Traveller minority ethnic students and white settled Irish students). Since the formation of the Irish state, Traveller progression in education has been low and remains a key issue negatively affecting the community. While Travellers enjoy almost full attendance in primary school, they still tend to leave post-primary school early and lag behind their peers in terms of literacy and numeracy levels, and general academic achievement. Research in the international context about the educational experiences of Travellers informs us that there are many complex reasons for poor educational attainment and progression. While there is very little research in Ireland which has focused specifically on the educational experiences of Travellers, we do know that they report finding the current curriculum irrelevant and that they experience bullying and exclusion from their peers and that they are treated unfairly by their teachers. This study contributes to the field in its specific focus on Travellers in a diverse and disadvantaged post-primary school context, drawing on both teacher and diverse student perspectives, and in its authorship by a Traveller researcher. Located in the constructivist/interpretive paradigm, and drawing significantly on Critical Race Theory, the methodological approach adopted in this research was a qualitative case study. In the main study, data collection involved twenty-eight semi-structured interviews with staff and student participants. This study found that the school was labelled negatively at a local level because of its highly diverse student population, with the school being seen as a school for ‘Travellers and blacks’. Additionally, the staff and student participants from across the different groups experienced often problematic relationships. In particular, staff and non-Traveller students’ relationships with Travellers were superficial in nature and were informed by ‘deficit’ thinking in terms of Traveller culture and the inequality that they experienced in school and society more broadly. There was also evidence of ‘weak’ manifestations of intercultural education, and the study’s findings suggest that even weak forms of interculturalism were not being understood or implemented in relation to Travellers. Recommendations include the need for training and support for teachers on anti-racist education and culturally responsive pedagogy, with particular reference to Travellers, in order to successfully embed intercultural education, and the need to further examine DEIS policy, and school composition in Ireland more generally, to avoid over-concentrations of disadvantage in certain schools.