A PROGRAMME in Northern Ireland to tackle sectarianism, racism and bullying among small children has been praised by the Scottish Minister for Children and Early Years, giving its supporters hope that it will be implemented here.
The Media Initiative for Children uses cartoon advertisements, combined with a nursery school teaching programme, to encourage children aged three to five to respect cultural, racial and physical differences.
It has proved successful in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, so now its creators, Nippa, the early years organisation, and the US Peace Initiatives Institute are hoping to bring it to Scotland.
Speaking at a seminar held last week to introduce MSPs and educationists to the initiative, Adam Ingram, early years minister, said: "This programme shows you can tackle social problems through the early years mechanism, which confirms my view that the earlier we can intervene the better... I think this is something we should be considering seriously."
Other delegates at the seminar, organised by the Scottish Pre-school Play Association, were equally positive, arguing that the time is right to introduce it to Scotland, with the redesign of the curriculum for three to 18-year-olds underway and the new government's plans to develop an early years strategy. However, it would have to be tailored to Scotland's needs, they said, with some suggesting that here the cartoons could be used to make children more accepting of Eastern European immigrants.
Paul Connolly, professor of education at Queen's University, Belfast, has carried out extensive research into early years diversity and inclusion.
Previously it was thought that children do not start to discriminate until the age of 10 or 11. But his own research into sectarianism has found that children as young as three are aware of differences between groups. And, by the age of six, one in six makes sectarian comments.
"There's clearly a window of opportunity there between the ages of three and six," he said.