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Last Updated: Friday, 15 June 2007, 09:47 GMT 10:47 UK
Anti-bigotry plan for nurseries
Nursery school children
The campaign would target children using cartoons and puppets
A programme to tackle sectarian behaviour in children as young as three could be launched in Scotland.

A seminar in Edinburgh will gauge opinion on whether such a campaign is needed.

It follows a successful campaign in Northern Ireland where children of that age were found to be using sectarian remarks.

The Scottish Pre-School Play Association is holding the seminar at the Scottish Parliament.

Representatives from all areas of Scotland's education sector have been invited to attend.

The association will then decide whether a campaign is needed and how it should be paid for.

Many people may find it hard to believe, but the signs of sectarianism and racism, and other prejudices, can be evident in very young children
Professor Paul Connolly

The programme would be aimed at steering young children away from bullying, racism and sectarianism.

It would use cartoons and puppets to encourage children to respect people's racial, cultural and physical differences.

The head of Nippa, Northern Ireland's largest early years organisation, will be attending the parliament to talk about the programme.

The group developed The Media Initiative with the Peace Initiatives Institute (Pii), a US-based charity.

Child's play

Nippa's chief executive Siobhan Fitzpatrick said she was "quite amazed" that when her organisation undertook a baseline study it found that children as young as three were picking up "ethnic prejudices".

She added: "Research has shown that the programme is effective in helping young children recognise cases of being excluded and what it feels like.

"It is also clear that children who have taken part are more likely to be willing to play with children they see as different."

Ian McLaughlan, chief executive of the Scottish Pre-school Play Association, said he was very interested in the research which had been undertaken in Northern Ireland.

Nursery school children
The programme would be aimed at steering children away from bigotry

He said it was a clear issue for communities in Northern Ireland and it could be relevant for Scotland.

Mr McLaughlan added that more debate and research needed to be done before an anti-bigotry strategy could be introduced.

Professor Paul Connolly, of the School of Education at Queen's University, Belfast, has been closely involved with the Northern Ireland initiative.

He said: "Many people may find it hard to believe, but the signs of sectarianism and racism, and other prejudices, can be evident in very young children.

"These children can show a strong preference for the cultural events and symbols of their own community by the time they are three.

"When they are six, many are fully aware that they belong to one side or another."

The programme could use educational videos

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