Talking about learning and citizenship by visiting another locality

In February 2005 Tide~ facilitated a study visit for a group involved in Citizenship Education to Derry in Northern Ireland. Here they share some reflections.

Group members

  • Dennis Edwards - Citizenship AST at Hamstead Hall School, Birmingham
  • Darius Jackson - PGCE tutor at School of Education, Birmingham University
  • John Lloyd - Citizenship Adviser, DFES
  • Elaine Miskell - Tide~ Centre, Birmingham
  • Balbir Sohal - Regional Adviser for Citizenship, DFES and MGSS, Coventry

As our plane came in to land in Derry we couldn’t help but be struck by the particular setting of this distinctive city. A stone’s throw from the border with Ireland, edged by the scenic surrounds of Lough Foyle and Donegal and looking westwards to America. Its very geography instantly raised questions for us about people and places involved in Derry’s past and those that might be key to shaping its future. We were here as educators wanting to explore a range of perspectives about citizenship.

We were keen to find out about current issues for people living in this city and the priorities that they identified for the future. In particular we wished to get a sense of the needs of young people in this context, and ways that teachers, schools and youth workers were seeing their role in contributing to a process of ‘building citizenship’.

This visit was designed to build upon the work of a teacher group from Tide~ who had previously visited the city and met with people from political, business and voluntary sectors [This group produced the pack Building new Citizenship, see below].

Many of the discussions had focused upon a new climate of optimism in the city linked to the Peace process and devolution and we were now interested to see whether this had been borne out.

During an intensive two and a half days we began gathering different bits of our jigsaw. We heard contrasting views from different groups and by the end of each day we were buzzing with further questions. We were extremely conscious of how little we knew and how short a time we had for our investigations. We felt that this mirrored the reality of what it means to learn in a complex and changing world. Awareness of our own role as ‘learners’ and reflections upon our experiences of this were a pivotal part of the process.

The quotes below give a sense of just a few of the different perspectives explored:

“We need to move from the politics of grievance to the politics of governance. We need capacity building for a civil society ... not old problems but new solutions.”Mark Durkan, leader of the SDLP

“We want to challenge the insular mentality that can exist in certain communities.” “Whilst we are known for our murals we feel that our greatest success is our workshops.”  Bogside Artists - see

Schools are seen as a safe haven ... conflict is not talked about. Teachers need to go on a personal journey and there is a need for them to be supported in this.”Maureen Hetherington, Co-ordinator, The Junction [Community Relations Resource Centre]

“It is essential that the city should be developed as a place that is accessible and enjoyed by all. This means that it must be child and young person friendly, it must be easy to get around for those with mobility impairments ... and must provide an environment that people from different communities and backgrounds can enjoy without fear.”  Economic Development Section, Derry City Council

Building new citizenship ~ learning from change in Derry/ Londonderry is a pack containing a wealth of case study material to support Citizenship teaching at KS3/4. It deals with common themes of identity, inclusion, environment and participation and includes photographs, maps and a range of visual source material.

Ideas for using this pack

What did we learn to support Citizenship teaching and learning back in England?

Since returning from Derry, our discussion focus has been ‘teaching and learning’. We feel that there are many ways in which our experiences have helped us to consider the global dimensions of citizenship. Frequently our debates led us to make references to experiences and issues in other localities eg South Africa, the Balkans and places closer to home. Themes of ‘community cohesion’, ‘conflict resolution’, ‘participation’ and ‘identity’ seemed to be core to ‘building citizenship’ and we reflected that these themes would be as relevant and important in an English and global context.

The points summarised below share some of our initial thoughts and reflections ...

  • The value of exploring issues and perspectives from another locality offers a fresh insight into local issues
  • The need to challenge the narrow and insular. Citizenship ought to enable an outward-looking approach
  • Dealing with controversial issues can be challenging but avoiding these issues can lead to disengagement
  • The effectiveness of using quality visual stimulus. This enables an inclusive approach ... particularly useful for dealing with controversial issues
  • Inherent value of visits and visitors as a stimulus to learning
  • Need for processes which actively engage students through problem-solving and investigation linked to issues
  • Benefit of a ‘futures dimension’ ... for thinking about our communities

From this visit, group members will be seeking to draw upon experiences and inspirations from Derry in support of their own professional roles. Feedback from the group has recommended that Tide~ seeks to enable further study visit opportunities to Derry. These visits will be designed to support teachers as ‘reflective practitioners’ and will offer a valuable experience to anyone working to bring a global dimension to Citizenship Education.