Experts in early childhood from across the world will be arriving in Northern Ireland to hear the results of an in-depth research project that Early Years - the organisation for young children, hopes will lead to more effective measures to tackle bullying, racism and sectarianism in Northern Ireland’s still deeply divided society.
The research which assessed the impact of the ‘Media Initiative for Children Respecting Difference Programme’, developed by Early Years and the Peace Initiatives Institute in the USA and aimed at pre-school children aged 3-4 years old, was conducted by a multidisciplinary research team from Queen’s University, Stranmillis University College and the National Children’s Bureau (NCB). Early Years will be launching the research at an event at the Ulster Hall on Wednesday (13th October) .
Early Years Chief Executive, Siobhan Fitzpatrick explained: “Young people pick up negative attitudes so easily; we know that neurologically the imprint of these attitudes and emotions can begin at an early age. What the evidence of this research shows is that with children as young as three, that this form of approach can have an impact on preventing the adoption of sectarian attitudes. We are delighted with the positive findings of the research. It is the accumulation of years of work and it is an important platform from which we can continue to develop tools for tackling segregation, discrimination and separation in our society.”
"Early Years welcomes the positive impact that the initiative has had in developing children’s ability to recognise emotions in others, instances of exclusion and importantly the ability to empathise with how exclusion makes others feel."
The Respecting Difference Programme has been funded by The Atlantic Philanthropies and the International Fund for Ireland.
Early Years now plans to take this programme to scale across its network of 1200 early childhood services in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and aims to further develop the programme for older and younger children.
The research found robust evidence that the Media Initiative had improved young children’s awareness and attitudes towards cultural differences. The research relied on one of the largest ever trials of its type internationally and involved 74 pre-school settings across Northern Ireland and preschool settings in Counties Louth and Roscommon in the Republic of Ireland ..
Speaking on behalf of the funders, Mary Southwell, Board Member of the International Fund for Ireland, said: “Although there has been progress in advancing reconciliation, this report highlights that there is still work to be done – and that this work is needed at all levels of society and in all parts of the community. Both the International Fund for Ireland and The Atlantic Philanthropies feel that helping children to better appreciate diversity and respect difference is critical for building lasting peace.
“We have been impressed by the impact that the Respecting Difference Programme has had to date, and are pleased to be supporting the initiative.”
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International Fund for Ireland
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