The decision of the new Minister for Education Joe McHugh to review the decision to make history an optional subject at Junior Certificate is very welcome.
History should be restored as a core curriculum subject without delay, as this academic discipline has essential values relevant to modern Ireland and to promoting an understanding of the importance of active citizenship, social inclusion and diversity in our society.
In post-Belfast Agreement Ireland, a progressive approach to the teaching of history and an inclusive spirit towards historical commemoration should be viewed as key tools in underpinning peace, tackling deep-seated social problems and building a new shared understanding.
There is a significant body of international academic research that shows that the role of history education, in developing a sound knowledge of the history of one’s own country and of the wider world, can contribute to progressive democratic citizenship.
In a world where we are often bombarded with a wide range of electronic information of varying degrees of intellectual rigour and quality, and in a world where there are real concerns about the phenomenon of “fake news”, it is important that our young people have the ability to evaluate source material and to develop analytical skills, which the study of history teaches us.
The last census showed that persons born abroad accounted for 17.3 per cent of the population in the Republic of Ireland.
In the space of roughly a generation, our country is in the process of making the transition from a relatively homogeneous state to a pluralist nation.
The progressive teaching of history can foster a sense of inclusion, a respect for diversity and also strengthen awareness of civic responsibilities in the emerging generation, now in our schools and colleges, who will help shape the future of this island.
Division, rancour and conflict are themes that emerge from Ireland’s long history that we do not want to repeat or relive in a new era.
Mr McHugh is correct in noting that it is through “learning the lessons of our past that we can plan for the future”.
As Ireland now prepares for our second century of independence, the inclusive study of history is a means to build stronger communities and a vibrant, peaceful nation.
Dr Brian Murphy,
Access Foundation Programme,
Dublin Institute of Technology,