Education in divided societies: the role of school collaboration

Mass education has traditionally been used as an integrating force, perhaps most notably in the role of the public school in the United States. In the latter part of the 20th century overt assimilation through education was increasingly critiqued and attention shifted towards the incorporation of various forms of multiculturalism in schools. In some societies separate schools operated in recognition of different identities: in some contexts separate schools were used to maintain patterns of domination-oppression, but in others it was an attempt to allow minorities to maintain their own identities. Northern Ireland has operated separate schools for over a century, and many pointed to this as a factor in social division and political violence: various interventions were applied during the years of the violence, but few showed evidence of creating positive systemic change. For the last decade a new approach, based on promoting collaborative networks of Protestant and Catholic schools, has been put in place. ‘Shared education’ seeks to create dialogic processes between communities, at all levels, by using network effects to change the nature of the relationship between schools and communities in local areas while focusing on social, educational and economic goals. This presentation outlines the background to the development of shared education in Northern Ireland and traces how it has developed. The paper also will examine briefly how the idea has been adopted in other contexts, most notably in Israel.