Petition: Widen the Intercultural Diversity of Ireland’s Leaving Cert English Syllabus

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Hannah McMahon

8th July 2020


My name is Hannah McMahon. I’m twenty-three years old, and I studied anthropology in NUI Maynooth, before transitioning to a career in primary school teaching.
Since the death of George Floyd, and many others in the U.S.A, there has been a huge increase in national and international discussions about racism. Extensive media coverage has been surfacing the web; from demonstrations to protests, vigils to harrowing newspaper articles. Many people have been using their social media platforms to discuss their experiences of racism growing up in Ireland. We know that racial inequality is not exclusive to the states. In the words of our Taoiseach Leo Varadkar:
‘It is right to be angered by injustice. Racism too is a virus, transmitted at an early age, perpetuated by prejudice, sustained by systems. Often not recognised by those it infects. Possible to counteract and correct for, but never easy to cure.’ He added also, that ‘we don’t need to look across the Atlantic’ to find it. In the Dáil, it has concurred that as a country, we need to do our bit. But how?
I have always been very passionate about reading and creative writing. In school, English was my favourite subject. Recently, I have been reflecting on the authors whose books I have enjoyed the most over the years. Some of these authors include Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. These are three incredible writers with many books (and some poetry). However, I only knew about these authors when I got to university. And then, it occurred to me that we have a problem in our education system.
I believe that our current Leaving Cert English syllabus has many excellent creative works, but it is very outdated. It does not include any authors, poets or playwrights who are black/of colour.  For young Irish secondary school students, reading and learning about creative writing from black authors, poets and playwrights, and authors, poets and playwrights of colour, needs to begin sooner.

“I believe that our current Leaving Cert English syllabus has many excellent creative works, but it is very outdated. It does not include any authors, poets or playwrights who are black/of colour.”

I firmly believe that if we are to change the landscape for equality and inclusion in our country, we need to make our mainstream education system more receptive and responsive to a fair, broad and balanced representation of authors of all different skin colours. With that in mind, I made a petition to widen the intercultural representation of our Leaving Cert English syllabus so that students can learn about authors, poets and playwrights, who are black, white, and of colour. I am confident that this is a positive step in the right direction for educating young people of Ireland about important issues sooner, rather than later. Equally, secondary school teachers need more training in the area of teaching about complex social justice issues, such as racism, and supports need to be put in place to facilitate them. I believe that diversification of the English syllabus (and other subjects), will allow our young generation to be more conscious, informed and well rounded in their perspectives as they make their way to third-level education.
 STAND is an organisation committed to campaigning and advocacy of wide-ranging social justice issues, and utilising our power to make a difference in society. Signing this petition, sharing it, and helping to fight for this cause will enable us to diversify the education system, making it more representative of the many talented and dynamic creatives which we should be learning about. By signing, we can widen the scope of young Irish people’s perspectives on the world, and decentralise their thinking of being white as the default. In the words of Ailbhe Smyth, ‘we cannot and must not go on perpetuating racism by wilfully ignoring the brilliant creativity and achievements of black and brown writers here, and throughout the world. It’s time for a truly broad embrace of all good writing’.




Please click here to support Hannah’s petition to the Department of Education and Skills by signing your name today.



Featured photo by AALBC.com



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