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Basics come later in Ulster;Curriculum 2000

Forget the literacy hour ... democracy and creativity are what counts in Northern Ireland. Sarah Cassidy and Paul McGill report

SCHOOLS in Northern Ireland must avoid teaching literacy and numeracy too early, say proposals for a radical new curriculum.

Instead, thinking skills, work-related learning and citizenship would be at the heart of the school timetable in Ulster due to come into force from September 2001.

The proposed English curriculum for 2000 focuses on reading and numeracy in primaries. But its Northern Ireland equivalent points to compelling evidence in favour of allowing children to express themselves.

Teaching young people about democracy and political participation is vital if schools are to help to maintain peace in Northern Ireland, say officials who drew up the proposals.

In the longer term, they hope primary pupils will study a foreign language, RE will be broadened to cover world religions, while the arts will focus on popular culture and games that young people enjoy.

New exams, however, may have to be introduced to assess work-related and citizenship topics because pupils and teachers only value subjects that are externally examined, said the report.

In a marked departure from the English approach, proposals from the Northern Ireland Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) were weighted in favour of creativity for young children.

Early-years specialists had produced "compelling evidence" in favour of allowing pupils to express themselves through art, music and highly structured play until they were six. It would "promote brain development and enhance self-expression and self-confidence", they argue.

The CCEA also plans to cut content across all subjects to give teachers the flexibility to focus on issues relevant to pupils, society and the economy. It seeks "more active forms of teaching and learning which engage pupils in investigation and problem-solving."

Developing the Northern Ireland Curriculum: CCEA, 29 Clarendon Road, Belfast BT1 3BG, tel 01232 261200, e-mail

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