What is the role of education in social change and how can it support societies in moving from conflict to peace? These are some of the questions that Professor Alan Smith has been examining as the UNESCO Chair for Education for Pluralism, Human Rights and Democracy within the School of Education at Ulster University.
Since his appointment in 2000, Alan has worked on numerous national and international projects and programmes. Following the ceasefire and peace agreement in Northern Ireland, he played a crucial role in addressing some of the country’s most pressing and divisive issues, involving national identity and political literacy, by setting up integrated schools and rolling out citizenship education across the country.
In the 1990s Alan began working with teachers, curriculum authorities and youth and community groups to develop a programme and resources that encouraged dialogue and fostered a better understanding of citizenship among children and educators. Funded by the Nuffield Foundation and the Citizenship Foundation in the UK, the programme also included a television series called ‘Off the Walls’ in partnership with Channel 4, along with educational resources named ‘Speak your Piece’, and an extensive professional development programmes for teachers in Northern Ireland.
What began as a pilot programme in 25 schools has now become a formal part of the curriculum for all schools in Northern Ireland and, according to Alan, UNESCO has played an important part in this success story and helped to attract substantial funding.