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Perceptions of the Role of NGOs in Promoting Development Education in Secondary Schools in Ireland

From the early 1970s missionaries returning to Ireland set up NGOs like Concern and Trócaire. From the outset a major part of their work was taken up here with establishing Development Education (DE) in schools. Gradually the State took a greater interest in the integration of DE in the curriculum and it currently has a policy of partnership with NGOs who assist in this task. But DE appears to be far from satisfactorily embedded in schools. There are a number of reasons why this is. Schools are more results-oriented than ever; participatory DE methodologies do not sit easily into a system which is traditionally pedagogical; specific training is required to deliver DE but is not forthcoming from a cash-strapped government; the DE and Civil Society Unit of Irish Aid is a subset of the Department of Foreign Affairs and not, as might be expected, of the Department of Education and Skills; NGOs are understandably reluctant to engage with schools if there is no guarantee of long-term commitment from them.

 

From the early 1970s missionaries returning to Ireland set up NGOs like Concern and Trócaire. From the outset a major part of their work was taken up here with establishing Development Education (DE) in schools. Gradually the State took a greater interest in the integration of DE in the curriculum and it currently has a policy of partnership with NGOs who assist in this task. But DE appears to be far from satisfactorily embedded in schools. There are a number of reasons why this is. Schools are more results-oriented than ever; participatory DE methodologies do not sit easily into a system which is traditionally pedagogical; specific training is required to deliver DE but is not forthcoming from a cash-strapped government; the DE and Civil Society Unit of Irish Aid is a subset of the Department of Foreign Affairs and not, as might be expected, of the Department of Education and Skills; NGOs are understandably reluctant to engage with schools if there is no guarantee of long-term commitment from them.

The research attempts to discover the views of a sample of the key players of the continuing role of NGOs in the mediation of DE in Irish secondary schools. The approach I used was qualitative and the sampling strategy purposive or judgemental in which “…the important criterion of choice is the knowledge and expertise of the respondents” (Sarantakos, 2005, p. 164). DE practitioners, DE officers and senior management figures in Trócaire, Concern Worldwide and Self Help Africa, teachers and students who had experience of engaging with NGOs for DE purposes were the subjects of the research.

 

The purpose of the research was to achieve an across-the-board view of the main issues and problems with the current arrangement of NGOs “delivering” DE in schools. The study will serve as a useful resource for all concerned with the dissemination of DE in secondary schools in this state.

 

The research findings reveal that while Irish Aid, through the DE and Civil Society Unit, is demanding accountability from NGOs for DE delivery, the State is not taking the mediation of DE seriously enough. The levels of training in DE are poor in an education system which puts a premium on exam results and grades. NGOs are still fundraising in schools while current research shows that this is incompatible with DE. There are signs emerging of more cooperation between NGOs who heretofore were guarded about working together and “sharing” schools. There are also signs of cooperation of NGOs as members of IDEA (Irish Development Education Association) but not all state-funded NGOs are IDEA members. Added to the mix is the fact that a number of NGOs are reliant on State funds and not all schools are implementing official policy of “mainstreaming” DE across the curriculum. Schools need to be challenged about this and the question arises as to whose responsibility it is. This all points to the need for more coherence between schools, NGOs and the State. A comprehensive policy is required to ensure DE is mediated in every school in Ireland.

 
Jim Kirwin 2012
 

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