History and the Junior Certificate

 

Sir, – We at the Edmund Rice Schools Trust, a network of 96 very diverse schools across the country, warmly welcome the announcement by the Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh that there will be a review of the decision to make history an optional subject at Junior Certificate level.

As a former history teacher myself, I saw for years the difference that igniting an interest in history made to young people. It gave them a sense of where they came from, an understanding of the world around them, an ability to question, discern and analyse what they were seeing on the television and hearing on the radio.

Today, of course, most young people go straight to the internet to find out what they want to know. The Edmund Rice Schools Trust network of schools meets and enjoys teaching over 37,000 young people every day in our schools. But, with this, we know that we are also competing against as many smartphones and computers for their attention.

This reality, is, to our mind, one of the most important reasons for ensuring that young people continue to learn about history until at least the end of the Junior Certificate cycle. We are living in an era when people are favouring search engines over human editors, or are over twice as likely to ignore a position that they don’t agree with.

Teaching history is one way to ensure that young people don’t just default to what they think they know or agree with. If they have some understanding of history, they will be better armed to question what they read and hear online. It is history itself that illuminates the dangers of what can happen when people can’t and don’t question, when they blindly follow or when they accept a populist narrative.

We desperately need our young people today to understand and appreciate history so that they can ask the vital questions that will point us towards a more tolerant and pluralist future. We all need history to help break the increasing power of today’s echo-chamber of preconception. – Yours, etc,

GERRY BENNETT,

Chief Executive,

The Edmund Rice

Schools Trust,

Blackrock,

Co Dublin.