Wednesday, February 24, 1999 Published at 09:51 GMT
Putting anti-racism into the curriculum
Northern Irish schools are required to teach 'mutual understanding'
The inquiry into the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence is expected to recommend a greater emphasis on multi-culturalism in schools.
At present, there is no specific provision for encouraging pupils towards racial tolerance or developing an understanding of other cultures - but a revision of the curriculum already in progress could provide an opportunity to make multi-culturalism part of the school timetable.
For a more comprehensive approach to tackling intolerance, the government might look to the example of schools in Northern Ireland, which are already required to teach a subject called "education for mutual understanding", which is explicitly designed to address sectarianism.
At present, schools in England and Wales can look at racism within subjects such as history or geography or under the heading of a broad-based subject called "personal, social and health education".
These lessons typically tackle topics that are intended to be useful to young people in their personal lives, such as sex education and warnings against drugs.
But the government has expressed a desire for a more explicitly moral approach to teaching about social issues and has commissioned a working party to consider the introduction of "citizenship" as a subject in the curriculum.
If the government wanted to implement a recommendation to include anti-racist education in school, then the new citizenship syllabus would seem a likely way to achieve it.
'Social and moral responsibility'
A report from the working party, submitted to the Education Secretary David Blunkett last autumn, identified three strands that would have to be included in citizenship lessons - social and moral responsibility, community involvement, and political literacy.
Discussions about racism and attempts to encourage greater cultural awareness could be interpreted as fitting in the social responsibility category.
If the working party's proposals are implemented, it would mean dedicating 5% of the secondary school week to citizenship, although it could be partly integrated into other subject areas, such as religion.
Although "education for mutual understanding" has evolved as a response to the particular problems of Northern Ireland's Troubles, it might suggest how lessons against prejudice can be incorporated into an education system.
Since its introduction in 1989, "education for mutual understanding" has been a "cross-curricular theme" in Northern Ireland's primary and secondary schools, which means that an awareness of the beliefs of other communities becomes an aspect of teaching subjects such as history and literature.
However, the fact that it is taught in schools still largely divided along religious lines has been seen by some as lessening the potential impact of the lessons.
If the government decides to make anti-racist education an element of the citizenship syllabus in England and Wales, it would be first taught in schools from September 2000.