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Image: Eden Project visitors
Returning Confidence to Outdoor Education
(Above: the Eden Project attracted 1.1m visitors in 2005, many of them on school excursions. The Eden Project is one of the partners in the Outdoor Manifesto initiative.)
The UK Education Secretary, Alan Johnson, has announced help to encourage more field trips by schools. This week he launched a £2.7m fund that is available to help increase the use of teaching out of the classroom. A new council will examine problems of safety on visits and how these affect teachers' responsibilities. In recent years court sentences have been passed on teachers deemed to have been at fault when acidents, sometimes fatal, have occurred, such as by a pupil drowning.
"Learning outside the classroom should be at the heart of every school's curriculum and ethos," Johnson said. "Children can gain valuable learning experience from going on cultural visits overseas, to teachers simply using their school grounds imaginatively. Educational visits and out-of-school teaching can bring learning to life by deepening young people's understanding of the environment, history and culture and improving their personal development"
The National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers currently has a policy which attempts to dissuade its members running field trips.
Mr Johnson was launching the Learning Outside the Classroom Manifesto at the Natural History Museum. He plans to urge schools to use the wealth of educational opportunities on their doorsteps and further afield, to inspire and motivate pupils.
The Government claimed it is the first time a a government has committed itself to making learning outside the classroom an integral part of school life, with the Manifesto being used to set out specific measures to help schools widen access to quality educational experiences.
The Manifesto is a growing coalition of over 100 education providers and local authorities who support schools in providing a wide range of experiences ranging from lessons in school grounds to visits to museums, city farms, parks, field study centres, nature reserves, residential activity centres and places of worship. Those signed up so far include the RSPB, The Eden Project, The Natural History Museum, The National Trust, Outward Bound Trust, Youth Hostel Association and the Arts Council.
See also "Travel to Understand - Belfast" in the panel to the left
Image: Loyalist political mural, Belfast
And the Other Side of the Story
Across the high wall-and-fence of the 'peace line' in this part of Belfast are the Loyalist murals. They tell of the Protestant cause amongst the people who came here under English encouragement, many from Scotland, to found a community loyal to the English Crown. Many of the industrialists who created the city's wealth and manufacturing power were also from 'across the water', from John Bull's bigger island. A deeply-ingrained set of traditions separated them from the Roman Catholics who also lived in the north, one which at its worst was coloured with a hatred far removed from the Christian philosophy which both were supposed to share. Unfair political strategies increased the divide as people strove to defend their own ways of life from others that they feared. The Protestant, Loyalist community felt pressured by a growing Roman Catholic, Republican community. In some of the most neglected and often exploited, run-down areas of the city these feelings turned to violence on both sides, the one helping create and to define the other.
The story goes that in resent years the Nationalist/Republican communities were first to realise the value of tourists visiting their memorials and political murals. The Loyalist/United Kingdom communities were less enthusiastic until they saw the success of the opposing faction in spreading its message by word of mouth and pictorial souvenir. Now, tourism is accepted by them as an effective channel of communication, too.
Image: Bobby Sands - political mural
The Art of Polemical Tourism
Works of art on walls are a Northern Ireland speciality. There must be a lot of effort and feeling put in to the creation of murals like these. They don't cost much and they get to their intended audiences travelling round the streets. And they satisfy a traditional urge to take the revolution on to the streets - literally. Each one has a tinge of the romantic, not in the sense of lovers walking into the sunset but of activists storming the barricades. Bobby Sands was a revered nationalist martyr who starved himself to death in jail in the cause of Republicanism. He was proposed for parliament and elected as an MP within his final days, a symbolic act as he would never have taken up his seat.
This mural is painted on the end wall of the Sinn Fein Party HQ in Belfast - the nationalist, Republican movement's offices. As I took this photo a BBC Northern Ireland news crew was filming the mural as part of a report on a forthcoming Sinn Fein press release. For tourists now once more arriving in Belfast and photographing this mural, there could almost be the postcard caption added - "Wish You Were Here" - and the political message spreads around the globe via this wall, that TV report, those holiday snaps - and the world wide web.
Image: Black Cab Tour - in a red taxi
Black Cab Tour - In A Red Taxi
Hiring your own driver for a couple of hours is more expensive than the usual sort of coach tour. It's worth it if you can. Billy Scott drove Victoria and me round the city and fed us a stream of detailed knowledge of its history and culture. These cabs get round the traffic and have plenty of comfortable space inside. First we 'did' the docklands, then the housing estates with their political murals and memorials.
Image: McCusker's Pub at the Ulster Folk Museum
Museum Street Scene
McCusker's Pub was not moved lock, stock and beer barrel but newly created for the Museum, based on one which once stood in Armagh, owned by a Hugh McCusker. It was recalled by an elderly former customer who said there was an exclusively male clientele who often paid 'on the slate', settling debts on pay day. The building forms part of one of the Museum's streets. These are slowly, but surely, growing into a representative townscape of life as it used to be in Northern Ireland.
Image: Ulster Folk and Transport Museum - print shop
The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum at Cultra was established in 1958. The large hillside park contains several exhibition and service buildings and around 50 historic buildings moved from places within the province. Some are well spaced within fields to represent rural communities and others grouped to make the nucleus of a 'town'.
Baird's Print Shop is within one such building, which also contains a newspaper room and a library that came from Andrews Mill in Comber, County Down. The collection of books had been provided for the workers and for any other townspeople who wished to use it.
The print shop has a number of small presses, including the Columbian shown here. Operating with movements like those of an ancient wine press, the hand-powered Columbian employed three men to position, ink and "pull" impressions on paper laid flat on the assembled metal type. To an audience often more used to computer inkjet printers, the demonstrations might appear to show a totally alien world, but of course it was the printed paper like this that spread knowledge and ideas across the land. The historic changes shown in the museum could only come about through the agency of this communications powerhouse.
Image: Ulster's last weaver at work
Traditional and Distinctive History
John McAtasney is the last handlook weaver in Northern Ireland. At the Ulster Folk Museum he can be found at certain times demonstrating damask weaving, making table napkins. He describes to visitors the intricate craft of the weaver and tells of his own, long commitment to the work over several decades.
John works in one of the museum's Open Air buildings which are now part of a growing, reconstructed 'town' which represents Ulster in days gone by. Besides the weaver's workshop there are a printer's shop and a woodworking shop, but elsewhere in the town can be found a police barracks and exhibition about the often dangerous and sometimes divisive life of Northern Ireland's police forces. The story of Ulster is complex and highly charged emotionally. Understanding it is just one way to redress the wrongs of the past and to restore the respect the province deserves.
Image: Thompson Dock, Belfast
A Fitting Start
The Titanic was launched from No 3 Slipway at the Harland and Wolff Yard and then fitted out in the Thompson Dock. The slips are only visible through chain-link fences at present, but a handy stairway into a neighbouring building allows a better view of the dry dock. In time the area will be conserved in order to help visitors understand the setting of the construction sites which also produced the Olympic and Brittanic liners.
Image: Titanic tours
Belfast might have been more known for the sectarian troubles between the late 1960s and '90s, but as the home of the Titanic and a lot more besides it has other histories to offer. The slipway and dry dock where the ship was built and completed are easy to see though not to inspect close up. That will probably change as new developments alongside the River Laggan and Belfast Lough take shape. "It was perfectly all right when it left here" said our taxi driver on a Black Cab Tour, reminding us with dry humour that it was an English captain and a Canadian iceberg that did the damage, not poor quality workmanship. Troubles and titans depend on media reporting as part of the process that creates them. Going to see for yourself helps dispel the limited perceptions built by reliance on the media alone, and in the case of this fine city bring home the fact that these days Northern Ireland's future is looking far more positive.
Image: At the Crown Liquor Saloon
Blogs About Belfast
A recent flying visit to Belfast produced a remarkable tour of parts of the city from the Crown Liquor Saloon shown here, via the slipways where the RMS Titanic was built to the political murals on housing estates and finally the Ulster Folk Museum. Given that a few hours as a tourist is not an in-depth understanding of a complex city, the change in the atmosphere since my last visit in 1987 was remarkable. More pix and prose on the way. Picture: Victoria and Jay lunching.
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