Assessing Impact of ICT Intercultural Work: The Dissolving Boundaries Program

Assessing Impact of ICT Intercultural Work: The Dissolving Boundaries Program

Angela Rickard (Maynooth University, Ireland) and Roger S. P. Austin (Ulster University, Northern Ireland)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1709-2.ch007
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This article reports on a school-based ICT initiative, called Dissolving Boundaries (DB) which links primary, (pupils aged 5-11), post-primary (pupils aged 12-18) and special schools (pupils aged 5-18) in partnerships across the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. The aim of the research was to investigate if participation in DB was associated with an increased awareness and understanding of life on the other side of the border. The ICT skills of pupils were also probed. Two cohorts of pupils were used in the study, one which had taken part in the Dissolving Boundaries program during an academic year and another cohort of similar age in the same schools, which had not taken part. Findings suggest that participation in the program contributed to students' knowledge and awareness in general of the other jurisdiction. In terms of collaborative work, a large majority of DB pupils agreed that they could learn something new from working with another school. Participating pupils in the DB program showed much higher competence in those ICT skills associated with communication and collaboration than their non-participant peers.
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Academic debate about the importance of schools in promoting the values of respect, tolerance and openness to cultural diversity is not new, but the issue has attracted increased attention in recent years (Hughes & Loader, 2015; Hasler & Amichai-Hamburger, 2013; Donnelly, 2010; Ruane et al., 2010; Devine, Kenny & Macneela, 2008; Waldron & Pike, 2007; Leavy, 2005). The dangers of negative stereotyping and inertia that hinder the development of such values are documented in educational literature (Hasler & Amichai-Hamburger, 2013; Ligorio & Van der Meijdent, 2008; Donnelly & Hughes, 2006) and it is clear that positive attitudes, particularly in contexts where tensions and mutual distrust have prevailed, need to be modelled, nurtured and celebrated in order to be sustained throughout a person’s life (Montgomery & McGlynn, 2009; Trew 2004; Connolly, Smith & Kelly, 2002; Brown, 2000). Educational policies and curricular aims designed to challenge and discourage racism, xenophobia and all other forms of bias against others are welcome because they articulate the appropriate values of a democratic and civilised society. However, such policies are only liable to result in lasting attitudinal change when practical models are implemented in schools and elsewhere that will enable culturally diverse groups to come into contact with each other in meaningful ways and that tap into children’s centres of interest and motivation. (Bonnell et al, 2010; Niens & Chastenay, 2008)

Changes to the political, social and demographic landscapes of both Ireland1 and Northern Ireland in recent years, coupled with social tensions that appear more salient during times of economic hardship (such as those being experienced currently in what is referred to as post-Celtic Tiger Ireland, the period after the economic boom of the 1990s and early 2000s) make it imperative that schools model good practice in relation to values of respect, open-mindedness and cultural diversity (Donnelly 2010; Devine et al., 2008;). With this also comes a need for teachers to engage with pedagogies that will contribute to developing positive dispositions among young people. As Connolly et al. (2009) note, awareness among children of their own and others’ ethnic identities starts to emerge at a very early age, even in a society where the markers of ethnic difference are not obvious. Yet the still prevalent educational segregation that divides school-goers along religious lines in both Ireland and Northern Ireland (Donnelly & Hughes, 2006) results in continued social, geographic and symbolic divisions between young people of different cultural and religious backgrounds on the island of Ireland (de Burca & Hayward, 2012). The limited opportunities for cross-border contacts among young people would likely exacerbate this problem.

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