Developing Programmes to Promote Ethnic Diversity in Early Childhood: Lessons from Northern Ireland

  • Connolly P
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Executive summary This working paper focuses on some of the issues and challenges faced in developing early childhood programmes to promote racial and ethnic diversity in societies characterised by deep divisions and/or conflict. The central argument of the paper is that the development, delivery and evaluation of such programmes need to be informed by three core values that are children’s rights-based, outcomes-focused, and evidence-informed. To provide some sense of what these values mean in practice and how they can be combined together in the development of early childhood programmes, the working paper is based on experience in Northern Ireland. The region provides a useful case study because its people are emerging from 30 years of armed conflict. The ability to study the development of an early childhood programme aimed at promoting understanding and respect for ethnic diversity in such a context raises a number of fundamental issues of relevance to a wide range of other situations and contexts. The working paper identifies five key challenges from this case study for those wishing to develop early childhood programmes that promote respect for ethnic diversity elsewhere: The need to develop and implement a 1. children’s rights-based approach to the design, delivery and evaluation of early childhood programmes; The need to develop appropriate research 2. methods and methodologies capable of understanding the effects of ethnic divisions in young children’s lives; The need to learn more effectively from 3. other existing research and programmes; The need to develop robust methods to 4. evaluate the effectiveness of programmes; and The challenge of ensuring government 5. support and buy-in for programmes. It is recognised that Northern Ireland represents a very particular context and that further work is required to determine how these challenges may be addressed elsewhere. It is with this in mind that the working paper concludes by describing the work of the Joint Learning Initiative on Children and Ethnic Diversity (JLICED), co-sponsored by the Bernard van Leer Foundation and Atlantic Philanthropies. Based on the successful Joint Learning Initiative model developed previously by the Bernard van Leer Foundation in association with others, the JLICED represents a global network of early childhood researchers, practitioners and policy makers from across the minority and majority worlds. The initial proposal for this particular JLICED was very much inspired by the approach and model of working developed in Northern Ireland and as described in this working paper. In being able to draw upon the wealth of expertise that exists internationally in this area, the JLICED represents a unique opportunity to take this model of working – that is based on the three core values outlined above as well as a commitment to developing meaningful partnerships between early childhood educators, researchers, local communities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) – to see how the five challenges that have been identified might be best addressed in particular social contexts and regions around the world. In so doing, the JLICED can make an important contribution to existing knowledge and practice in this area.

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  • ethnic diversity

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  • Paul Connolly

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