Sunday 21 April 2019

Traveller children hiding accent in school to avoid bullying, committee hears

Just 167 traveller people have ever held a third level education qualification

Martin Collins, assistant director of Pavee Point (Niall Carson/PA)
Martin Collins, assistant director of Pavee Point (Niall Carson/PA)

By Aoife Moore, Press Association

Traveller children are hiding their accent and ethnic identity in school to avoid being bullied, a committee has heard.

Organisations representing the community told TDs that traveller children still face considerable disadvantages in education compared to their settled peers.

Traveller parents have reported to charities about concerns that schools are not actively supporting the inclusion of their children, and that because lessons about traveller culture are not taught in schools, hurtful stereotypes are perpetuated among young people.

The Joint Committee on Education and Skills met on Tuesday to discuss the topic of Traveller Education.

Representatives from the Irish Traveller Movement, Yellow Flag Programme, Pavee Point and the National Traveller Women’s Forum called for racism training to be a core element to teacher training, as they say institutional racism is compounding the issue.

The organisations say that an unconscious bias among teachers is reflected in low expectations for traveller children.

“A culture of low expectations mean that travellers have missed out on achieving their goals in life,” Pavee Point’s assistant director Martin Collins said.

“Direct and targeted resources are needed to promote traveller inclusion in mainstream education – one size doesn’t fit all.

“Another important action would be to promote affirmative action opportunities for travellers who want to become teachers, this is essential in promoting positive role models.

“Direct engagement of traveller organisations as equal and key partners in developing policy is also essential.

“We can’t deal with traveller education in isolation from poor living standards, high unemployment, low health status and racism, what’s required is a multifaceted approach.”

The committee also heard about the stark inequality faced by female travellers in education, which leads to future unemployment, poverty and social exclusion.

Less than 1% of traveller women are in third level education, while just 167 traveller people have ever held a third level education qualification.

The committee also heard how schools are expected to cope with fall out from poor accommodation and mental health problems among traveller children.

“It’s difficult for schools to do this on their own,” said Clive Byrne from the National Association of Principals and Deputies.

“So we call for the restoration of supports that had been cut in the past for schools to be made available.

“The economic reality of travellers trying to send their children to school is that some have no access to broadband, or some of the technology that is regularly used in schools at the moment.

“We have to put in support for parents, that they see the value of education for their children.”

Austerity measures imposed during the recession saw substantial reduction in funding for traveller education, which was noted throughout the committee.

Feargal Brougham, vice president of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, said there can be “no overstatement of the effect it has had on traveller children”.

He added: “It will take at least a generation to undo the damage done by the cuts.”

The committee also heard it is widely acknowledged traveller education enrolment declines as they move through the system, decline most commonly begins in fifth class, leading to literacy problems in later life.

Press Association

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