Government supports Bill making Traveller history, culture part of school curriculum

Minister says legislation ‘speaks to opportunity and inclusion for all in education’

  Minister for Education Norma Foley. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Minister for Education Norma Foley. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times


Minister for Education Norma Foley has expressed the Government’s support for legislation to ensure Traveller history and culture becomes an obligatory part of the primary and secondary school curriculum.

Ms Foley backed the Bill, which was introduced three years ago in the Seanad by then-senator Colette Kelleher and passed a year later.

She acknowledged unanimity in the Dáil for the Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill and said the legislation “will not put everything to right but it is important that this Bill speaks to opportunity and inclusion for all in the education system”, and particularly for Traveller children in this instance.

Ms Foley said it was an opportunity for schools to promote Traveller history and culture and “provide for greater understanding of our shared history”.

She said that programme has been made in creating an education system that is “more inclusive and supportive, including for Traveller children, but much remains to be done”.

The Minister pointed out that just 13.3 per cent of Traveller women are educated to upper secondary level compared to on 69.1 per cent of the general population.

Nearly six in 10 Traveller men are educated to, at most, primary level “in sharp contrast to general population for which comparable rate is just over one in 10”.

The Minister said “we must do more to ensure that Traveller children and young people feel their experience and perspective is fully valued by the education system and equally that the education system provides opportunities for them to reach their full potential”.

A lot of work had been done since the Bill was introduced in the Seanad “in order to further this shared objective”.

This included work by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), which conducted an audit on Traveller education. It identified a number of means through which students’ understanding of Traveller culture and history could be advanced in the curriculum, including through the subject of history.

The legislation was introduced in the Dáil by Independent TD Thomas Pringle, who expressed disappointment that the Government did not sponsor it.

But he said it was “very important in recognising the significant role Travellers’ culture has played in Irish society”.

“Education is the key means of encouraging social acceptance of diversity, fighting discrimination and addressing disadvantage.”

He believed that the cultural and historical education of Irish students could be broadened “in the way Black History Month has for students in the UK and US”, through learning about aspects of Traveller culture including language and music.

The Donegal TD said the “inclusion of Traveller culture and history in the curriculum of primary and secondary schools is a logical and necessary continuation of the State’s recognition of Travellers’ ethnicity in 2017”.

He stressed that “a curriculum that is a positive reflection of Traveller life can advance outcomes for Traveller learners and improve retention in education, but only if taught by teachers who are trained and culturally competent”.

The Bill, accepted unanimously by the Dáil, now goes to the Education Committee for consideration.