Award-Winning Competition from Galway goes National
Announcing the 2018 programme of events in the beginning of this year Paul Flynn, Programme Director of the Irish History Competition project “Breaking the SEAL”, again emphasised why the project organisers enjoy focusing on a young target group: “Irish secondary school students are the most exciting and creative demographic that we have the pleasure to work with. We need to encourage, listen to, and support them as they offer us fresh, new perspectives on the past. We are delighted to announce that we are about to launch a National History Competition open to all 16-18 year olds in the Republic of Ireland and a second competition for students under 25 who wish to submit the research study reports that they completed while at secondary school.”
Following the great success of the regional Galway History Competition that is organised by “Breaking the SEAL” and which again won awards and public recognition for its pedagogical design, the organisers are now looking forward to take the History Competition to the national level. As in previous years the choice for a focus topic will be open. The awards ceremony will take place in late May 2018.
Dr.Paul Flynn explains: “With this Irish National History Competition we are working against the current trend that endangers history education at schools. Irish students who study history in the final two years of second level education are brave. The curriculum is broad, the examination process is lengthy and is recognised as one of the most challenging of all subjects offered. High stakes outcomes force many students to consider, not whether they enjoy subjects, but rather whether they can score highly across a range of subjects that will provide them with an opportunity to attend their chosen third level programmes. In recent years this has triggered a decline in the number of students studying history between the ages of 16-18 years, with some schools only able to offer history as a subject when sufficient number of students have committed.”
“Breaking the SEAL” recognises these challenges not as insurmountable barriers but rather as opportunities to innovate within one of the most challenging and tightly controlled education spaces in the Irish education system. Using a robust pedagogical model, “Breaking the SEAL” introduces participants to vital 21st century skills such as: collaboration; critical analysis narrative construction and technological proficiency through a scaffolded exploration of the past.
In 2016 the programme started out as a pilot project with an initial small group of students. In the first year the topic was not prescribed and allowed participants the freedom to choose period and fields of history that they were attracted to. This was not without its challenges as the students were aimed to support with artefacts from the Galway’s University’s extensive archive and library. Nonetheless, engagement was high and the programme was a success. In year two, the students’ interest was increasing even more and the project was even over-subscribed. Because the organisers wanted to focus on a further development of the programme, they restricted the number of participants but continued with their previous setting to have the students choose their own topics. In the coming year, the programme was adapted to include a larger number of students by including more digital archives and repositories. The programme was once again very successful and won awards and public recognition for its pedagogical design.
Within the EUSTORY Network, the Irish Competition is one of the few which is leaving the topic open for the students to choose for themselves. Paul Flynn explains the reasons for this decision: “We recognise the value of approaches taken by some of the competitions within the EUSTORY Network to prescribe the topic for students. However, we believe that a sustainable future for the second level subject of history lies within the diverse interests of our teenage population and facilitating them as they challenge interpretation and established preconceptions. It is our desire that, within this facilitated process, students will learn valuable research skills, develop methods of critical analysis and gain narrative presentation skills both in written and verbal form.”
For “Breaking the SEAL” the development of these critical skills and a deeper understanding of how to connect to the past are equally important for students who will enter this year’s National History Competition and go on to be the next generation of Irish and European citizens.