In the wake of the Omagh bombing in August, Mary Duce, honorary secretary of the UK section of the European Association of Teachers, posed the question: "...how can I possibly say that the knowledge, which pupils worked so hard to gain . . . can have even a remote bearing on the tragic history of Northern Ireland and especially on the tragedy of Omagh?" Marie Martin tries to answer that question from an Omagh perspective.
One of the young victims on that sunny Saturday afternoon was 17-year-old Jolene Marlow, a pupil of Loreto Grammar School. Always a good student, she was awaiting her A-level results with no great trepidation. She had taken a summer job in a local shop and, on that fateful day, used her late lunch break to stroll down the high street with her younger sister.
A little later, Jolene was dead and her sister seriously injured.
How does this story of one of the Omagh victims begin to answer Miss Duce's question? Jolene was one of my past pupils, and at her wake her family proudly showed me her record of achievement. I will let her words speak for themselves:
"In second year we did European awareness, which was very interesting. At the end of the course we sat our first public exam (the EATUK European knowledge test, level 1). I was delighted to find out later that I had passed with distinction.
"One of my main interests in Year 13 was European awareness. I got to develop this interest through the European know-ledge, level 2 test, which I passed with distinction. I also helped out in the European department of our school and took part in video-conferencing with a school in France. Due to the results of my European knowledge examination and my involvement in the European department I was nominated for, and won, the Maria Drumer Award (an EATUK award, named after the Polish educationist). I was one of seven winners in the UK."
Jolene's short life was enriched by the work of the EAT and by the excellent work in European awareness being done in her school. Her family's grief is at least somewhat assuaged by their pride in her achievements.
Jolene was one of many victims that afternoon. Her sister is recovering, but we are just beginning to realise the full extent of the injuries of some of the other survivors.
I hope the EAT will continue the work to which Jolene paid tribute in her record of achievement, the work of helping our schools look outwards towards the wider Europe to instil in their pupils a respect for other cultures and an appreciation of the enrichment of diversity. We need all the help we can get to ensure there are no more Omaghs.
* The EAT, through its syllabus and European knowledge tests, promotes greater awareness of Europe.
Marie Martin is international officer of the Western Education and Library Board (Northern Ireland)