EDUVINET HOME The European dimension in the curriculum of the primary school and the junior certificate

By Education Centre Drumcondra, IRELAND, 1997

Contribution to the EDUVINET "Living Conditions of EU Citizen" subject


The European dimension has become an increasingly important aspect of education . It is, of course, not a new concept. It is as old as Europe itself and there is evidence of it in the writings of Comenius (1592-1670). He forged a philosophy that emphasised political unity, religious reconcilation and educational cooperation. There is also reference to the European dimension in education in the writings of other philosophers and educational thinkers throughout the ages. But in modern times, organisations, such as the Council of Europe and the European Union, have been working on it for over forty years.

For a long time though, it was seen as a simple "education for reconciliation and better understanding". Recently, there has been a sea-change with regard to this, brought about by various factors, including happenings in Central and Eastern Europe, developments related to the Single European Market and advancements in information technology.

The European dimension in education has evolved into a much broader and more dynamic concept. This has wide ranging implications for all sectors of education, such as, schools, universities and third level institutions. Among the initiatives being pursued are:

But the European dimension in school education has more specific implications for other aspects of education, such as:

This report examines the explicit and the implicit aspects of the curricula which promote the European dimension in education throughout the Primary School and Junior Certificate Programme and as far as the Transition Year, in other words throughout the compulsory school age of Irish students.


In the early years of the European Union, education was only of indirect importance. But since the raison d'etre of the European Union is to increase the mobility of people, ideas and products within its Member States, it is hardly surprising that in the early years when people talked about education, what they very often had in mind was the equivalence of diplomas or the reception and schooling of the children of migrant workers i.e. the prerequisites for the freedom of movement of workers.

It was only in the 1970s that closer educational co-operation between the Member States was introduced. At the centre of this was the 1976 action programme for co-operation in education, which besides introducing measures for the schooling of migrant workers' children, and for more intensive exchanges of information, sought to improve foreign language teaching and bring about closer co-operation in university teaching. Point 5 of this programme deals specifically with giving a "European dimension to the experience of teachers and pupils in primary and secondary schools in the Community. "

A breakthrough came in 1986 with the signing of the Single European Act, which led to a new dynamism within the European Community. Its preamble reiterated the broad objective - the creation of a European Union and it also laid down the legal framework for establishing a single market by 1992. Many action programmes were launched in the late 1980s in order to prepare the way for the training of the human resources needed to achieve this objective. These included programmes such as COMETT, ERASMUS, EUROTECNET, and PETRA.

The 1980s was a time of consolidation among the Member States of the European Union with the development of the idea of enlargement and the single market of 1992. It also saw the emergence of concepts such as "European identity" and "European citizenship". These are reflected in the Resolution for enhancing the European dimension in Education which the European Council and the Ministers of Education meeting within the Council adopted on 24 May, 1988. This was perhaps the single most influential action taken by the European Union on the curriculum of schools and colleges in recent years because it gave greater emphasis to the European dimension.

This Resolution consisted of a kind of common reference document to all of those in the Commission and in the Member States who were interested in the promotion of the European dimension in education. The Resolution consisted of a statement of objectives and a two-fold set of action strategies for implementation of the European dimension in education. One set of strategies was for implementation at member state level, the other by the Commission at Community level.

The Resolution outlined four objectives to strengthen the European dimension in education. They were as follows:

To assist the EU to undertake its role, a task force for Human Resources, Education, Training and Youth was established in 1989.

The next major event in the development of the European Union which was to directly have an effect on education, was the signing of the Treaty on European Union in Maastricht in 1992. Article 126 ofthis Treaty introduces new competencies in the field of education which means that now there exists a legal framework which allows the Community to propose co-operative action in this area even though the subsidiarity principle still does apply to education.


Ireland has traditionally taken a very positive attitude towards the European Union. This attitude is gradually becoming reflected in educational policy and practice. The Green Paper - Education for a Changing World (1992), devotes its third chapter to "lrish Education in the European Community". The European dimension features in its aims and is referred to throughout the document.

The Report of the National Education Convention (1994), also refers to the role of the European dimension in Irish education in Chapter fifteen which is entitled "Irish Education within its International Context". It states that; "As so much of the political, economic, social and cultural policy of Ireland is so intimately affected by decisions of the European Parliament and the European Commission it is a right of Irish citizens to understand the nature and workings of the European Union with a view to being informed citizens of Europe, as well as of their own state. "

Chapter seventeen of the White Paper - Chclrling our Education Future (1995), is entitled "Irish Education and the International Dimension". It outlines Irelandís commitment to the European ideal, which is demonstrated in its:

This commitment has implications for the curricula of Irish schools and the reforms over recent years have incorporated a more specific European dimension within the school subjects. This has been most evident within the new Junior Certificate Programme and it is being likewise incorporated into the revised curriculum for Primary schools which is at present being prepared by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA). The review is taking account also of the rapid social, scientific and technological change which is taking place and of Ireland's position in the European Union and in the wider world.


In the education continuum, early childhood and the Primary School are regarded as essential in providing a firm foundation for later learning. At this stage children acquire basic cognitive and social skills, like literacy, numeracy and the ability to communicate. Attitudes are shaped, so caring, tolerant, creative and democratic impulses can be fostered. It therefore provides the framework for all further advancement in the education system. For this reason, the quality and effectiveness of the curriculum in the primary school is of crucial importance. This is evident in relation to the European dimension in education also.

The term "curriculum" itself encompasses the structure and processes of teaching and learning which the school provides in accordance with the educational objectives and values. It includes both explicit and implicit elements. The specific elements include those concepts, skills and areas of knowledge which children learn at school as part of their personal and social development. The implicit elements include those factors that go towards making up the ethos and general environment of the school.

Because of the increasing importance of the role of Europe in the lives of Irish people, the present generation of school children need to acquire gradually a positive sense of themselves as young Europeans as well as young people of Ireland. This is likely to remain the case for succeeding generations of Irish students also. This sense of belonging to a wider community of nations will provide pupils with the awareness, expectations and confidence to participate more fully in the Europe of the future.

There may be opportunities for our young people in Europe in the future, but if there are, there will also be challenges to be faced in availing of them.

There are two main ways in which the European dimension of education may be integrated. These are, firstly, in the curriculum through the individual subjects and also in a cross-curricular manner. Secondly, it may be integrated through extra-curricular activities, by building up contacts with other schools, or also by inviting people into the school to speak about various Europe- related topics.

There are also three different levels upon which the European dimension in education can be promoted. The first level is concerned with European awareness. This involves young people acquiring an understanding of European geography, developing an understanding of European history and the evolution of the European Union itself. It is also concerned with developing an increased awareness in young people of the daily lives of other Europeans. If the first concern is about awareness then the second is about relationships and therefore, with the development of skills which would enable young people to communicate with other Europeans and with the fostering of a better understanding of the relationships and interdependence that exist between the Member States and also between Europe and the wider world. The third area is about developing a sense of responsibility towards Europe or a sense of "European identity" or "European citizenship".

A child's conceptualisation of the external world is sometimes portrayed as a cluster of concentric circles, at the centre of which lies the child. The first circle deals with the immediate family of the child, the second with his neighbourhood, the following with the wider communities to which the child belongs, such as the national, European and global communities. So among the early lessons of school is the development of a wider sense of belonging. This helps bind citizens together and give them a stronger sense of identity and loyalty to each other and to each of the other communities to which he belongs also. The European dimension fits into this model.

European Awareness

In order to develop a sense of European awareness in the pupils they need to acquire an understanding of European geography and to develop an understanding of European history and evolution and of the role of the EU in its development. They also need to acquire a greater understanding of the daily lives of other Europeans and their cultural heritage.

There is a sense of European awareness in evidence throughout the curriculum. It is portrayed in the oral English prograrnme through learning about children from other lands. There is an emphasis on their way of life rather than on a catalogue of facts, figures, locations and products. This is also reflected in the English reading course, where there is evidence of both folk and modern tales from other lands which are used to widen the children's geographical vision and to develop in them an understanding of human - geographical relationships. The emphasis is on developing a detailed picture of small groups of people in real environments. The history programme at middle and senior level investigates the various waves of invasion and migration, such as those of the Vikings and the Normans, which have helped to shape the present day Europe in terms of language, culture and customs. Priority is given to neighbouring countries that have a strong social and economic tie with Ireland.

Part and parcel with the whole notion of European awareness, is the area of cultural awareness. This is demonstrated in the curriculum through the relating of folk tales and stories, especially in English, at all levels of the school. Many of these tales are trans-European and represent a shared cultural background.

Cultural awareness is also demonstrated in subjects such as music, physical and health education and art and crafts. The children learn to recognise songs and music from different cultures by listening to music or by singing folk songs from other lands. They become familiar with folk dances from abroad as part of their physical and health education programme and they are also introduced to artistic works by artists from Ireland and from other countries, in the art and crafts programme, either by viewing copies of selected works or by visiting the National Art Gallery or other art galleries.

Building Relationships

If the first lessons are about awareness, then the second must be about relationships. This involves looking at the similarities and differences between the child's environment and the wider world. This is done throughout the curriculum but it is especially evident in geography and environmental studies. In oral English, the children discuss people in their own neighbourhood that help them, such as the postman, milkman etc. These demonstrate clearly concepts such as co-operation.

History also demonstrates the relationships between the people of Ireland and Europe in the study of the Irish saints and scholars travelling around Europe setting up monasteries and schools. The relationship between Europe and the rest of the world is also examined in geography, by noting its position relative to the other major land and water masses and the consequent climatic and economic advantages of its location.

This relationship is portrayed by examining other European countries as sources of foodstuffs. Pupils identify some of the raw materials and resources on which Europe depends but which come from outside the continent. In the geography programme pupils develop an awareness of the tourist industry in Europe by exploring popular holiday destinations for Irish holidaymakers, such as France and Spain. These studies demonstrate clearly qualities such as cooperation and interdependence.

Extra-Curricular Activities

Some primary schools have used extra-curricular activities in order to build up contacts with children from different European countries through pen-pals or through becoming involved in European Educational Projects in order to develop positive attitudes towards Europe and a "European identity". These initiatives are very effective ways of becoming familiar with other cultures and it is hoped to extend the number of schools involved in the coming years. It is believed to be one of the most effective ways of teaching intercultural education. Travel, itself, has always been regarded as being an important part of a "good" education.

This, therefore, is a broad outline of the European dimension, as it exists, in the primary school curriculum. The programme outlines some of the characteristics of the European civilisation, by looking at some of its historical, cultural, economic and social aspects. The pupils are introduced to the significance of the co-operation between Member States of the European Community with other countries of Europe and the world. This then forrns the foundation upon which the Junior Certificate Programme can extend the studentís educational experience in relation to the European dimension.

There are four main ways in which the European dimension in education can be integrated. These are through

Many key concepts that enhance a pupilís understanding of Europe are introduced in the Primary school, such as community, co-operation, democracy, unity, migration and cultural heritage. The primary school does place an emphasis on the awareness and development of self. This incorporates self-understanding and a development of consciousness of identity. It also involves a sense of family, local and national and European affiliation. The idea of citizenship and social responsibilities is portrayed in the Civics programrne. The main concem here is with the development of acceptable moral and social attitudes which take into account the rights of other members of society. Of course, these are all qualities which also help strengthen a sense of European identity and citizenship.



Building on the foundation of primary education, post-primary education aims to provide a comprehensive, high-quality leaming environment which enables all students to live full lives, appropriate to their stage of development, and to realise their potential as individuals and as citizens. It aims to prepare students for adult life and to help them proceed to further education or directly to employment. The post-primary system is divided into two "cycles"; the Junior cycle and the Senior cycle.

The Junior Cycle

The Junior cycle covers a vital period in young peoplesí lives when they encounter significant changes in their educational experience. The Junior Certificate Programme was introduced in 1989 to provide a single unified programme for students aged broadly between twelve and fifteen years. This programme seeks to extend and deepen the quality of studentsí educational experience in terms of knowledge, understanding, skills and competencies and to prepare them for further study at senior cycle. The Junior Certificate Programme also contributes to the moral and spiritual development of students and encourages them to develop qualities of responsible citizenship in a national, European and global context.

Breadth, balance and coherence underpin curricular development at this level. Breadth involves the provision of a wide range of different experiences which nurture holistic development. Balance establishes appropriate relationships among the diverse aspects of the curriculum. Coherence provides students with broad and balanced programmes at the appropriate depth, while also encouraging students to make connections between the varying facets of their educational experiences.

The European dimension has been included in the terms of reference of all course committees, where applicable. The aims and principles of the Junior Certificate note that the Junior Certificate aims to "prepare the young person for the responsibilities of citizenship in the national context and in the context of the wider European Community".

In order to prepare young people to be able to live, work and compete in a wider community of nations in which the opportunities and challenges are greater than ever before, young people today need to develop an awareness and a sense of belonging to Europe and a readiness and ability to grasp the opportunities it may offer. This is helped by the European dimension in the curriculum and also by providing opportunities to experience the reality of Europe through cornmunication and contact.

The Curriculum

Many of the concepts that were introduced in the Primary curriculum to help the pupils' understanding of Europe are extended in the Junior Certificate Programme.

Awareness of self through exploration of the civil, social and political dimensions of their own lives is evident in the Civil, Social and Political Education programrne. This is dealt with in the Unit entitled 'The Individual and Citizenship', where qualities such as personal development, human dignity and stewardship are explored. This programme then continues to explore the concept of 'communities' - their origins, membership, organisations and rights and duties of their membership. This prepares pupils for the fact that development and improvement are important aims for most communities - even the European Community.

European Awareness

Business studies is that part of the curriculum which enables the student to make informed decisions in the everyday business of living and also contributes to the studentsí understanding of the workings of business. Business studies aims to make some contribution to economic literacy which is essential in order to prepare the students to take part in the economic and social development of the European Community. The mathematics programme also contributes to the skills required in this area.

Knowledge of the Community and its Member States in their historical and cultural aspects is portrayed in subjects such as history, art and craft and design and music. The history programme provides the students with a wide tapestry of past events, issues, people and ways of life so that they will develop a better understanding of the foundations upon which the contemporary world is built. It will also enable them to acquire knowledge about how individuals and institutions influence and are influenced by the sequence of events in time. In Section II: "Studies of Change", one of the topics covered is "Exploration", and it deals with changes in the European view of the world as a result of all the sea voyages taken throughout the ages. Political change brought about by the French Revolution is also examined in the history programme.

Cultural Awareness

An introduction to the history of art, craft and design is encouraged in relation to the leaming experience, with examples from the past and present, world-wide as well as local, Irish or European work, so as to acquaint the student with adult and child art, craft and design from many different cultures.

The students are introduced to a variety of examples of music and song from different cultures, by different composers, in the music programme. One of the aims of the foreign language programme for the Junior Certificate is to give the pupils an awareness of another .culture and to contribute to the development in pupils the capacity to engage in fruitful transactions and interactions with others. The foundations of the capacity to communicate with other Europeans is a very valuable asset in the promotion of the European dimension in education here.

Building Relationships

The educational experiences provided enable the students to recognise the relationships between themselves and the wider environment and the various communities to which they belong. They can recognise their rights in society and their responsibilities to it, in a local, national, European and international context. They broaden and deepen their knowledge and awareness of Europe, its civilisation, culture and development. A greater understanding of the interdependence between regions and countries is developed. The value of harmonisation between Member States, which is brought about by increased understanding, co-operation and communication, is evident.

The Environment and Social Studies programme also helps the pupil develop a better understanding of self as an individual and as a member of a local, national and European community by looking at Irelandís role in international affairs and by concentrating, as an option, on a study of our European Community membership. This programme also examines people in their environment, in relation to settlement patterns and resources, both locally, nationally and internationally.

The geography programme studies people and their relationship with their environment and looks at topics such as population distribution. This is more closely examined in countries such as Italy, and Sweden and it also looks at the creation of new settlements in places like the Polders in the Netherlands and nucleated settlements such as those in the Rhine river basin. The movement of people, goods and information between settlements is examined with reference to French railways, European Community airports and Rhine river transport, to show how the development of such links aids the development of settlements. This helps the studentsí understanding and awareness of the development of the European Community.


In 1996, the Department of Education and the European Commission Representation in Ireland, jointly published a pack entitled "In Search of Europe". The pack was compiled to support specific Transition Year modules on Europe. It includes background information and notes for teachers as well as material for classroom use. There is also a video included in the pack. The emphasis is on encouraging students to actively engage in discovering today's Europe for themselves.

The topics covered in the pack include some key concepts about Europe some of which have already been introduced in the primary and junior Certificate programmes, such as community, migration, cultural heritage, co-operation and democracy among others.

The development of modern Europe is also traced and profiles of Member States are included. There is a focus on European Institutions and Structures and a section covering the subject of living and working in Europe, which is of relevance to Transition Year students. This section deals with issues such as employment and unemployment patterns and it looks more closely at the experiences of some Irish people working and living in other European countries

The resource pack has greatly enhanced the co-ordination of teaching about Europe in Irish schools. While the pack was primarily introduced for use as a Transition Year resource, its contents could certainly be adapted for use in other sections of schools, such as at Junior Certificate level and even at Primary School level.


The European dimension can be seen to give an "added value" to the general objectives of schools, as outlined in the Green Paper on the European dimension of Educalion (1993), which contribute to;

In addition, the European dimension in education aims to give "added value" to specific objectives such as contributing to a European citizenship based in the shared values of interdependence, democracy, equality of opportunity and mutual respect. It also aims to help extend the opportunities for improving the quality of education, and finally it aims to help pupils towards social integration and a better transition to working life.

In the context of the Single Market, with all that that implies, the development of a European dimension of education can contribute to easing pupil's transition to working life and to extending their opportunities for employment.

Indeed, knowledge of languages and familiarity with other cultural and professional environments, especially that of business, are among the positive factors in helping young people move out into the world and to be able to master change, and in preparing them for professional mobility and for better integration into society.

The curricula of the primary school, Junior Certificate programmes and the Transition Year pack "In Search of Europe", certainly do help achieve these aims and objectives but there is scope for a more highly co-ordinated approach, where all of the different strands of the European dimension in the various programmes can be brought together, somehow. Of course, as in the recommendations of the "Communicating Europe" document, there is a need for good quality inservice education courses for teachers in this area. The success of the effective promotion of the European dimension in education, which is now seen as a vital component of that education, is very much dependent on their knowledge, commitment and leadership.


Borchardt, Dr. Klaus-Dieter, ( 1995). European Integration: The Origins and Growth of the European Union. Luxembourg: Office for the Official Publications of the European Communities.

Communicating Europe Task Force (1995). Report. Dublin: Stationary Office.

Commission of the European Communities (1995). White Paper:Teaching and Learning: Towards the Learning Society. Luxembourg. Office for Official Publications of the European Commission.

Coolahan, John (Ed.) (1994). Report on the National Education Convention. Dublin: Stationary Office.

Coolahan, John (1995). Secondary Education in Ireland. Strasbourg: Council of Europe Press.

Department of Education (1971). Curaclam Na Bunscoile. Dublin: Brown and Nolan.

Department of Education (1989). Junior Certificate Syllabi. Dublin: Stationary Office

Department of Education (1992). Green Paper: Education for a Changing World. Dublin: Stationary Office.

Department of Education ( 1995). White Paper: Charting Our Education Future. Dublin: Stationary Office.

de Kerchove d'Exaerde, George ( 1990). A Human Face for Europe. Luxembourg. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.

Mulcahy, D. G. ( 1 992). Promoting the European Dimension in Irish Education in Irish Educational Studies, Vol. 11, (1992), pl79- 19O.

Northern Ireland Curriculum Council. Thinking European: Ideas for Integrating a European Dimension into the Curriculum. Belfast: NICC.

Review Body of the Primary School Curriculum ( 1990). Report. Dublin: Stationary Office.

Shennan, M ( 1991). Teaching Europe. London: Cassell.


1) John Amos Comenius (1592 - 1670), was a Moravian educational reformer. He wrote a "Brief Proposal" suggesting that the young should learn about the common culture of Europe.

2) Stobart, M. (1990) Paper presented to the 12th National Conference ofthe U.K. Centre for European Education, London, 6th November (mimeo).

3) Subsidiarity is the principle that decisions should be taken at the lowest level consistent with effective action within a political system. This has been held to be a guiding principle of federalism, it has also been widely invoked in recent years as a means of limiting the European Union's competence. The Maastricht Treaty introduced a subsidiarity clause into the Treaty of Rome.

Article submitted by
An tIonad Oidachais, Education Centre,Drumcondra, Dublin 9
Director Patrick B. Diggins
Phone 01 - 837- 9799
Fax 01 - 837 -0642

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