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25/06/2002

Shock report shows sectarianism amongst kids

By the age of three, Catholic children are already twice as likely to say they don’t like the police compared to Protestant children according to the findings of a new report.

The report also finds that by the age of six, a third of children are already identifying with one of the two main communities and just under one in six are making sectarian statements.

The revelations emerge from a major University of Ulster research report published on Tuesday June 25, which was funded by the Community Relations Council in association with Channel 4 Television.

The report, called ‘Too Young to Notice? The Cultural and Political Awareness of 3-6 Year Olds in Northern Ireland’, is the first ever in-depth study of the attitudes and prejudices of pre-school children. Written by Dr Paul Connolly, Professor Alan Smith and Berni Kelly, it is based upon data from interviews with a representative sample of 352 children drawn from across Northern Ireland.

Dr Connolly said the report “certainly raises important questions about the indirect effects that our segregated school system is having on the development of young children's attitudes and awareness”.

Overall, just over half (51%) of all three years olds were able to demonstrate some awareness of the cultural/political significance of at least one event or symbol. This rose to 90% of six-year-olds quizzed.

The report further illustrates that Protestant children were twice as likely than their Catholic peers to prefer the Union Jack than the Irish Tricolour flag.

Catholic three year olds were again nearly twice as likely to say that they didn't like Orange Marches compared to Protestant three year olds.

Dr Connolly said: "In some ways, the fact that the family and local community have an influence on the attitudes of young children is obvious – especially when we consider events such as those surrounding the Holy Cross Primary School.

“However it does highlight the fact that we cannot simply expect schools to solve the problem alone. Unless we can develop community relations strategies with children that also include the family and local community then they are going to be of very limited success."

He added: “As regards the role and influence of the school, the most significant finding from the study is the rapid rate of increase in the proportions of children beginning to identify themselves with one particular community and also to make sectarian comments at the ages of five and six. The fact that these represent the first few years of compulsory schooling is unlikely to be a coincidence.”

Children demonstrated the greatest awareness of the cultural/political significance of parades (49% of the sample), flags (38%) and Irish dancing (31%). One in five (21%) were able to demonstrate awareness of football shirts and of the violence associated with the conflict more generally.

(AMcE)

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