Social, environmental and scientific education
Social, environmental and scientific education (SESE) provides opport unities for the child to explore, investigate and develop an understanding of the natural, human, social and cultural dimensions of local and wider environments, to learn and practise a wide range of skills, and to acquire open, critical and responsible attitudes. SESE enables the child to live as an informed and caring member of local and wider communities .
SESE takes place within, and contributes to, many areas of the curriculum. It thus contributes significantly to many aspects of the child’s development. Within this curriculum, SESE is presented under three subject headings: history, geography and science. Each of these areas has a distinctive role to play in enabling the child to explore and understand the natural, human, social and cultural environments in which he/she lives.
The SESE curriculum
Understanding the term ‘environment’
An understanding of the term ‘environment’ is fundamental to an appreciation of the nature of social, environmental and scientific education. The word ‘environment’ is used in this curriculum to denote the surroundings or external conditions with which an individual (human or other living organism) or community interacts.
Environments may be categorised in two broad groups. Natural environments are formed largely through the interaction of the earth’s physical features and processes, its flora and fauna. A tropical rainforest, a peatland or a rocky seashore may be examples of natural environments.
In Ireland, human activity over thousands of years has shaped and changed the landscape considerably. Environments which have been modified in this way are termed human environments. Areas which have been altered by the presence of people, farming activities, the extraction of resources, the provision of roads and other communication links and the construction of buildings are all examples of human environments.
Some human environments, such as urban are as, are predominantly the constructions of people and are termed built environments. Other human environments result from social and cultural activities and are entirely human creations. As people live and work together, social patterns, relationships, sys tems and institutions are evo lved, while human experience, knowledge, va l u es and beliefs are ex p ressed, developed and Social, environmental and scientific education perpetuated through a range of cultural activities. Patterns of human behaviour, the social institutions developed by people and the political and economic systems which they utilise are aspects of social environments; artistic, religious, ethnic, scientific, technological and recreational activities are aspects of cultural environments .
Exploration and investigation
A key characteristic of learning within SESE is the involvement of the child in the active exploration and investigation of all of these environments.
Historical education enables children to investigate and examine critically significant events in their own immediate past, the past of their families and local communities and the histories of people in Ireland and other parts of the world. History develops an understanding of the actions, beliefs and motivations of people in the past and is fundamental to an informed appreciation of contemporary society and environments.
In geographical education, children explore and learn about features in human and natural environments, especially those in the immediate locality. They investigate the processes which create, sustain or change physical features and the interactions of people with each other and their environments in the locality and wider contexts.
Science education enhances children’s knowledge and understanding of themselves and the world in which they live. It involves children in the active construction of their own understanding. This understanding changes in response to the children’s broadening experiences. A scientific approach to investigations fosters the development of important skills, concepts and knowledge through which children can observe, question, investigate, understand and think logically about living things and their environments, materials, forces, everyday events and problems. The knowledge and skills acquired may be applied in designing and making activities in which children perceive a need to create or modify elements of their environments.
Values, attitudes and responsibilities
SESE is also concerned with the cultivation of important values and attitudes. It fosters an appreciation of the inter-relationships of all living things and their environments and encourages children to become active agents in the conservation of environments for future generations. Through their investigations, children develop informed, critical and scientific perspectives which acknowledge the importance of founding judgements upon a respect for facts, accuracy and reason. SESE seeks to generate an appreciation of cultural and historical inheritance and cultivates an atmosphere of equality and opportunity where gender, cultural diversity, minorities and special needs are respected and valued. Prejudice and discrimination are challenged while respect and mutual understanding are promoted.
Throughout the primary school years, the environments of the child, particularly those of a local nature, provide ideal contexts and a compelling impetus for the integration of learning. The subject headings history, geography and science are used to aid the presentation of the curriculum, and an awareness of them is an important part of the child’s cultural and intellectual inheritance. Each subject offers a distinctive perspective on the world and equips children with a particular range of skills. However, the use of these subject divisions must not negate the effective implementation of an integrated curriculum. The use of wellplanned integrated approaches, both within SESE and between SESE and other curricular areas, will have an important part to play in the delivery of the primary curriculum at all levels. Systematically planned integrated topics can provide contexts in which knowledge and skills may be developed in a range of areas. Many elements from the history, science and geography curricula may be explored concurrently, and much of the work involved will contribute to the development of oral language, literacy, numeracy, aesthetic awareness, creative expression and communication skills.
A number of features have been incorporated in the curriculum in order to facilitate effective integration. SESE is best approached in a holistic manner with younger children, as this respects the wholeness of their view of the world. Accordingly, a considerable degree of overlap and similarity has been embodied within the content suggested in the strands and strand units of the three curricular statements for infants and first and second classes. Further suggestions for integrated studies are included in the accompanying guidelines for teachers .
As children grow older they begin to recognise that there are different ways or modes of looking at the world and of organising human knowledge, so teaching strategies may vary to include a holistic approach, some cross-curricular integration and a subject-centred focus. Possible cross-curricular links and integrated studies are noted within the content of the curricular statements for third to sixth classes. These should be regarded as suggestions only: people and their activities, other living things, features, materials, events and processes to be found in local and wider environments provide many other opportunities for a unified approach to learning. Such an approach utilises teaching and learning time efficiently and acknowledges that the social, emotional, attitudinal and moral development of the child is interwoven with the acquisition of knowledge and skills.
The aims of social, environmental and scientific education are
- to enable the child to acquire knowledge, skills and attitudes so as to develop an informed and critical understanding of social, environmental and scientific issues
- to reinforce and stimulate curiosity and imagination about local and wider environments
- to enable the child to play a responsible role as an individual, as a family member and as a member of local, regional, national, European and global communities
- to foster an understanding of, and concern for, the interdependence of all humans, all living things and the earth on which they live
- to foster in the child a sense of responsibility for the long-term care of the environment and a commitment to promote the sustainable use of the earth’s resources through his/her personal life-style and participation in collective environmental decision-making
- to cultivate humane and responsible attitudes and an appreciation of the world in accordance with beliefs and values.
History: a sense of time
History is the interpretation of what are considered to be significant human activities in the past and the process by which these activities are selected, investigated and analysed. History is not the story of the past but rather our attempt to reconstruct and interpret elements of the past which are of interest to us.
History gives children a knowledge of past human experiences at family, local, national and international levels. Pupils also develop an understanding, appropriate to their age, of time and chronology, change and continuity, cause and effect. They acquire skills appropriate to their developmental stages so that they may interpret evidence in a critical way.
Historical themes and topics develop empathy with other people and a deeper understanding of past and current social, political and economic interactions.
The history curriculum
The nature of history in a child-centred curriculum
A broad and balanced understanding of history is essential if a child is to become a confident, informed, critical and responsible adult member of society. A rounded historical education reflects the nature of history itself: firstly, it is concerned with knowledge and interpretations of the lives of people in the past, and secondly, it enables children to experience something of the way in which historians go about their work.
Through exploring the past in this way, children can acquire knowledge and concepts while simultaneously developing important skills and attitudes appropriate to their individual stages of development. History in the primary school can then make a unique and vital contribution to the harmonious development of the child in a truly child-centred education.
The lives of people in the past
History is concerned with our interpretations of the actions of people in the past and the ways in which men, women and children responded to, and lived through, these events. Exploring the lives of people in the past, and especially the causes and effects of their actions, contributes to the child’s awareness of human character, motivation, belief and emotion. More immediately, it can help the child to understand more fully the world in which he/she lives—how events and personalities have shaped the home, locality and wider environments in which he/she exists.
The particular people and events which are thought to be historically significant will vary from historian to historian, from society to society and from time to time. However, primary school children will unders tand the actions of people in the immediate past more readily than those of people in distant ages, and historical enquiry will acquire a greater relevance for children if it fulfils their need to explore and unders tand their immediate environment. For these reasons, the history curriculum places a very strong emphasis on the study of personal and local history in all classes in the primary school.
At the same time the curriculum provides for the exploration of various aspects of history through which the child will become aware of the individuals, groups, events, cultures, beliefs and values which have affected the lives of people in the past and shaped contemporary society in Ireland, Europe and the wider world.
A major concern in this curriculum is the involvement of children in the study of personal and local history. Children can gain their first impressions of the concept of time through simple discussions of personal and family history. By exploring the changes which have occurred and elements which have remained unchanged in their own lives, in the lives of their families and friends, and in their homes and immediate environments, children begin to appreciate the existence of times different from their own. Their historical understanding is enriched as they visit and investigate the buildings and common features of the locality and the lives of people who have lived there. In this way, the study of the past and the development of a sense of time come to have an immediate relevance as children explore and understand the world in which they live. The curriculum provides for the exploration of personal, family and local history at all levels and suggests practical, simple activities in which these elements of local studies may be completed.
National and international history
Children develop an enhanced understanding of their own country and the wider world through encountering elements of national and international history. At times history has concentrated on political developments and the lives of ‘famous people’, often ‘famous’ men. Some elements of political history have a place in the historical education of older primary pupils, but this curriculum places an emphasis on the study of the ‘everyday lives’ of what may be termed ‘ordinary people’.
Children should study the domestic and social history of women, men and children as well as their technological, scientific, cultural, artistic and leisure activities in the past.
These studies can never be exhaustive, and this curriculum seeks to provide flexibility for schools and teachers in the selection of content while ensuring that children become familiar with a broad and balanced range of topics. In particular it will be important that children have opportunities to become aware of the lives of people from different social, cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds in Ireland, Europe and the wider world.
Working as an historian
Engaging in the process of historical enquiry is a second and essential element of history. Thus, the curriculum provides for the development of a growing range of historical skills and concepts as children study the lives of people in the past. These skills and concepts, which are outlined in the sections entitled Working as an historian, are related to the nature of historical enquiry.
History uses skills and concepts which are associated with time, sequence and chronology. Although young children have a very imperfect understanding of the concepts of time which adults use to mark periods in the past, they can become aware of differences between life in the present and the past, and so begin to develop a sense of time. This curriculum suggests activities for infants and junior classes in which the development of children’s sense of time may begin through the exploration of elements of their immediate past and the past of their families and locality.
Children’s sense of the past will become somewhat more sophisticated as they grow older, so that they will begin to understand and use concepts of time and chronology, recognise instances of change and continuity, and develop gradually a sense of perspective in time.
All history rests on evidence. History in the primary school should engage the child in finding, selecting and analysing a wide range of sources which can tell us about the past. Older children should also come to appreciate the importance of such evidence, its limitations and the need to treat it fairly. By realising that the evidence of the past may be interpreted in a number of ways, children will come to appreciate that historical judgements are always provisional and may have to change in the light of new evidence.
Historians do not simply study the past: they use the evidence they have found to reconstruct the past, and they convey their accounts and interpretations to others. Synthesising an account from a number of pieces of evidence in order to create an imaginative reconstruction of the past and its communication to others are fundamental aspects of history. They may be engaged in readily by the primary child, and they make important contributions to the development of the child’s wider personal, social and intellectual skills.
A study of the past relies on, and helps to develop, a sense of empathy: the ability to view situations from another person’s perspective. This involves learning to appreciate and understand the attitudes, values and motivations of others as well as the historical contexts in which they lived. A sense of empathy is essential if the child is to become critically aware of his/her own attitudes and those of others, and it makes a valuable contribution to the development of mutual respect and tolerance.
History is also concerned with the influence of the past on the present. History should allow the child to explore how the actions and experiences of people in the past have influenced subsequent generations. The exploration of the immediate environment will reveal many instances in which people in the past have shaped elements of our present surroundings through settlement, farming, building and other activities. But the influence of the past is not confined to the physical and material world. History can also reveal how our sense of identity—on a personal level and as a member of family, national and other communities—has been shaped by the cultural and social experiences of many different peoples in the past. Perhaps most important of all, history can help the child to begin to explore how people’s interpretations of the past can exert a powerful influence on their attitudes, beliefs and actions today.
History and the integrated curriculum
History and other areas within SESE
While history makes an important and distinctive contribution to the development of the child, historical education complements the growth of the child’s geographical and scientific learning. All three contribute to the wider social and environmental education of the child and their complementary roles will be reflected in the organisation of learning. Throughout the primary school, and in the early years especially, much learning in history, geography and science will take place through the integrated themes or topics which teachers use to organise their work. Many of these topics will arise out of the child’s need to explore and understand his/her immediate environment and local community. The curriculum and its accompanying guidelines suggest how the development of valuable historical skills, concepts and attitudes will be achieved as these topics are explored.
Language and history
Language develops primarily through its purposeful use and effective learning often involves and occurs through talk and writing. Because of this, history can make a critical contribution to the child’s language development: the growth of the child’s historical understanding and the acquisition of language skills are interdependent and mutually enriching. Possible instances of integration between history and other subjects are suggested within the curriculum statement and guidelines but, in view of the pervasive influence of language throughout the teaching and learning process, examples of integration involving language and history are not delineated.
The opportunities for the parallel development of language and historical understanding are extensive. Much of the evidence of the past which children will encounter will be mediated through language; oral accounts and stories will be an impor tant source at all levels in the history curriculum and as children grow older they will examine an ever-widening range of written sources. Moreover, children will use oral and written language to describe, discuss and interpret the activities of people in the past. As they become more accustomed to examining oral and written evidence in a critical and sensitive manner children will also come to appreciate with increasing discernment the nuances of language and the meaning these convey.
An essential element in the work of the historian is the communication of his/her interpretation of the past to others and this has led to the inclusion of ‘communication’ as an historical skill in the curriculum. While the curriculum encourages the use of a range of communicative methods by children, many of these, such as oral retellings, drama, written accounts, worldwide web pages and other computer applications will encourage the development of skills in oral language, reading and writing. History will therefore provide rich opportunities for the enrichment and extension of children’s language.
History also has a language of its own. Children will be introduced to terms associated with chronology (words such as ‘long ago’, ‘era’, ‘period’) and they will encounter instances in which commonly used words (such as ‘ruler’, ‘house’, ‘school’) acquire very different meanings when used in an historical context. The extent, therefore, to which language is an integral part of the teaching and learning process should be a consistent concern in the planning and implementation of the history curriculum.
Information and communication technologies
History provides many opportunities for the development and application of skills in the area of information and communication technologies and the curriculum encourages the use of ICTs in the development of children’s historical understanding and skills. Many multimedia computer programs re-create the appearance of buildings, places and events in the past and allow children to experience aspects of the lives of people at various periods. Electronic media such as CD-ROMs and the internet can give children access to a vast range of pictorial, film and other sources which can greatly enrich children’s historical understanding. Indeed, as the use of ICTs becomes more widespread, electronically stored information will become an increasingly important primary source of historical evidence in its own right and it will be used to help children and adults draw conclusions about the past.
Information and communication technologies also facilitate children’s presentation of their own historical findings: information can be exchanged with others while written, aural and visual accounts may be readily created and edited. Moreover, the accounts of the past which children have created may be easily communicated both to others in the school and to a wider audience throughout Ireland and other parts of the world.
Assessment is an integral part of teaching and learning in history, as in other areas of the curriculum. The section on assessment outlines how a range of informal and more formal assessment techniques can assist in enriching the learning experience of the child and provide useful information for pupils, teachers, parents and others.
The aims of the history curriculum are
- to develop an interest in and curiosity about the past
- to make the child aware of the lives of women, men and children in the past and how people and events have had an impact upon each other
- to develop an understanding of the concepts of change and continuity
- to provide for the acquisition of concepts and skills associated with sequence, time and chronology, appropriate to the developmental stages of the child
- to allow the child to encounter and use a range of historical evidence systematically and critically
- to provide opportunities for the child to communicate historical findings and interpretations in a variety of ways
- to foster sensitivity to the impact of conservation and change within local and wider environments
- to help the child recognise and examine the influences of the past on the attitudes and behaviour of people today
- to foster a willingness to explore personal attitudes and values and to promote an openness to the possibility of changing one’s own point of view
- to encourage the child to recognise how past and present actions, events and materials may become historically significant
- to enable the child to acquire a balanced appreciation of cultural and historical inheritances from local, national and global contexts.
When due account is taken of intrinsic abilities and varying circumstances, the history curriculum should enable the child to
- study a range of people and events in the past in order to develop a balanced understanding of family, local, national and world history
- learn about the people, events, issues and cultural experiences which have helped to shape the local community and the environment
- develop an understanding of chronology, in order to place people, events and topics studied in a broad historical sequence
- acquire some understanding of change and continuity, including an awareness of factors which may have caused or prevented change, and come to appreciate that events may have a number of causes and outcomes
- examine and use a range of historical evidence systematically and critically, and appreciate the fact that evidence can be interpreted in different ways
- use imagination and evidence to reconstruct elements of the past
- communicate historical understanding in a variety of ways, using appropriate language and other techniques or media
- develop an appreciation of the perspectives and motives of people in the past and accept that individuals and events should be understood in their historical context
- be aware that the attitudes and behaviour of people may be influenced by their understanding of the past and by their past experiences
- respect and value a range of opinions and acquire open, questioning attitudes to the beliefs, values and motivations of others
- develop tolerance towards minorities in society and appreciate the contribution of various ethnic, cultural, religious and social groups to the evolution of modern Ireland
- develop a sense of personal, local, national, European and wider identities through studying the history and cultural inheritance of local and other communities
- develop a sense of responsibility for, and a willingness to participate in, the preservation of heritage.