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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Other dimensions of internationalisation in early childhood and school education


13.Mobility and internationalisation

13.4Other dimensions of internationalisation in early childhood and school education

Last update: 27 November 2023

13.4  Other Dimensions of Internationalisation in Early Childhood and School Education Curriculum Development

School Education - Primary

Particular reference to the European dimension occurs in four of the seven curricular areas:

• Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE)

• Geography

• History

• Arts Education (incorporates Music and the Visual Arts)

In the Social Personal and Health Education curriculum a broad objective is that the learner should begin to understand the concepts of personal, local, national, European and global identity.  The curriculum is divided into 3 main strands which apply at all levels from infant to 6th class – Myself, Myself and Others, and Myself and the Wider World.  Within “Myself and the Wider World” the focus begins initially by promoting an awareness and respect for diversity. By third and fourth class the curriculum requires that a learner should “begin to develop an awareness of the lives and culture of some people in the European Union.” By 5th class there is a specific Strand Unit in the curriculum entitled "National, European and wider communities". By the end of 6th class, a learner should “become aware of some of the cultures, lifestyles and languages of some countries in the European Union and the wider world.”  This should include “learning about the countries in the European Union, identifying some of the effects of the European Parliament on Irish life, exploring the interdependence of countries and peoples, learning about each other through sport and music”.  Teachers are advised in Teacher Guidelines that these topics can be further developed within visual arts, Geography, History, Music and Language, thus encouraging an integrated approach.

In Geography, learners become familiar with the principal cities of the European Union and the main natural features of Europe, such as the Alps, the Rhine and the Mediterranean Sea.  The approach recommended to teachers is to focus on enhancing children’s geographical understanding and geographical skills -- observing, measuring, predicting, concluding, mapping and other graphical skills, understanding the impact of human and natural environments, weather, climate and atmosphere, and environmental awareness and care.

In History, the aim is that learners will develop a sense of personal, local, national, European and wider identities through studying the history and cultural inheritance of local and other communities. Rather than following a specific time frame in national and international history, there is a focus on the development of historical investigation skills – an appreciation of time and chronology, change and continuity, cause and effect, using evidence, developing empathy, presenting findings, understanding that past events can be interpreted from a range of perspectives.

By third and fourth class, learners study a selection of strand units about Early People and Ancient societies, Life and Society and Culture in the Past, selecting examples from Ireland, Europe and the wider world. The strands units include for example, Life in Norman Ireland, in medieval times in Ireland and Europe, in the 18th century, 18th century, during World War 11 and life in Ireland since the 1950s.

By 5th and 6th class, two additional strands are added: Eras of Change and Conflict; and Politics, Conflict and Society. Among the strand units which can be chosen include the Renaissance; the Reformation; Traders explorers and colonisers from Europe; World War 1; Revolution and Change in America, France and Ireland; Ireland Europe and world 1960 to the present.

Through the strand “Politics, conflict and society” it is envisaged that learners will appreciate that the notion of tolerance and that of equality of treatment of people had to evolve over time.  It is envisaged that children will acquire insights into the attitudes and actions of people in contemporary Ireland and that this will contribute to their development as young Europeans.

In the context of the growing diversity and mix of nationalities in Irish schools in recent years, the NCCA has published Intercultural Education in the Primary School – Guidelines for Schools (, and a copy has been provided to each teacher in the system. The guidelines provide practical examples for teachers, management and staff in developing a more inclusive classroom in an intercultural context, and cover such issues as school development planning, intercultural education across the curriculum, selection of appropriate resources, assessment, and creating supportive environments for language learning.

School Education - Post-Primary

The following outlines the main subject areas in which European awareness is promoted.  There is scope, to a lesser extent, in other subjects such as Business, Home Economics (Social and Scientific) and the Social Education course within the LCA programme.

Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) is compulsory for all post-primary students up to the end of Junior cycle.  The programme is structured around seven key concepts – Rights and Responsibilities, Human Dignity, Development, Democracy, Law, Interdependence, and Stewardship. As part of the overall approach, it is common for the European Parliament elections to be employed as a teaching aid, particularly when such European events during the school year.  Mock elections, organising visits by MEPs, etc. also form part of CSPE throughout the three-year cycle. The curriculum includes study of Ireland’s membership of international groupings such as the European Union, the Council of Europe and the United Nations. Topical issues set out in the Guidelines for Teachers include MEPs, Trade, The European Commission, European Union, European Parliament, and Council of Europe.

Within the Junior Certificate History syllabus, the European Union forms part of the International Relations in the 20th Century section which is covered by all students in the third section (i.e. final year) of the syllabus.  A revised Leaving Certificate History syllabus was introduced in September 2004, for first examination in 2006.  There is a key emphasis on the development of historical investigation skills, and the subject is examined through a report on a research study (20% of marks) and a written terminal examination. Students choose either an Early Modern field of Study in Irish, European and wider world history (1492 to 1815),  or a Later Modern field (from 1815 to 1993). In either case, the revised approach requires study from the perspectives of politics and administration, society and economy, culture, religion and science. In the Europe and the Wider World aspect of the syllabus, the establishment and evolution of the EEC is a nominated political development which can be studied, incorporating concepts like the common market and federal Europe. 

The study of Geography at Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate levels aims to encourage post-primary students to develop a sensitive awareness of peoples, places and landscapes both in their own country and elsewhere.  Many of the case studies used to illustrate geographical ideas are drawn from within the EU. At Junior Certificate level students are asked to consider the use of the earth’s resources.  This would include water supply, fish stocks, energy provision into the future and the uneven distribution of wealth in a global and regional context.  To develop these topics reference are made to EU environmental directives, and the Common Fisheries Policy and the EU energy policy.  Of particular relevance to Ireland are the Regional and Structural Policies and their role in addressing the imbalance in development between the core and peripheral regions within Europe.  

A revised syllabus for Leaving Certificate Geography was also introduced in September 2004, for first examination in 2006.  It includes frequent references to the EU.  For example, in Regional Geography, students are required to study two contrasting European regions.  Specific attention is given to the future of Europe and the EU.  Students are asked to consider the issues of European development and expansion and the impact of this on different cultural groups.   The relevance of the EU to the everyday lives of its citizens is a common theme throughout.  Consideration is also given to the impact of social and economic policies on refugees, the issues of culture and identity and the role of the EU in the context of globalisation.

Economics at Leaving Certificate level relates to events in the national, European and global economies.  The relationship between economic policies in Ireland and the EU is particularly important.  Topics studied by students include the following:

• EU Institutions

• the operation of the Regional and Structural Funds

• reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and its implications for Irish Agriculture

• the enlargement of the EU and its impact on the Irish Economy.

Students study the impact of EU policies on fiscal monetary policy in Ireland.  Of particular importance is the introduction of the Stability and Growth Pact and how it affects budgetary policy options within Ireland.  The effects of the introduction of the Euro and issues relating to Ireland’s Presidency of the EU are examples of current topics relevant to the study of Economics that contribute to heightening EU awareness.

A new subject Politics and Society ( was introduced in the Leaving Certificate in a limited number of schools in September 2016. It will be expanded on a phased basis in the coming years.   The curriculum is organised across 4 strands – power and decision making, active citizenship, human rights and responsibilities, and globalisation and localisation. Each strand is examined in the context of a local, national, European and global perspective.

In addition, Irish Aid (part of the Department of Foreign Affairs), through its Development Education and Public Information section, inputs into the curriculum in Irish schools, particularly in the Transition Year programme. The National Council for Curriculum and assessment has a range of Transition Units for use within Transition Year on the theme of development and human rights. Transition Units (

The European Studies Project (ESP) was established in 1986.  Since then, it has promoted joint study and communication among students and teachers in several  European jurisdictions.  Its aim is to increase mutual understanding, awareness and tolerance in the youth of contemporary Europe.  The programme is jointly funded by the DES and its corresponding government department in Northern Ireland.  There are almost 100 post-primary schools in the Republic involved in the ESP.

The project has two main programmes of study – the Junior Programme and the Senior Programme (mainly for Transition Year students). Units in both programmes have been designed to assist students in examining not only areas of shared interest today, but also areas of conflict in the past.  They are intended to broaden the students’ knowledge and understanding of their own place and their relationship to others in the Europe of today.

In addition to the above, schools take part in a range of EU awareness measures, educational visits and competitions.  Some 1100 Irish schools participate in the e-twinning initiative.

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment has also published in 2006 Intercultural Education in the Post Primary School - Guidelines for Schools ( to assist schools in promoting an intercultural approach across the curriculum. The guidelines are designed to be practical and useful for teachers by providing curriculum audits, showing the scope for incorporating intercultural learning across a wide range of subjects, and providing practical examples of tasks and issues which can be explored to support the learning objectives of the curriculum.

In Higher Education curricula are designed to pay key attention to EU directives and EU developments as appropriate in providing professional education and training. In addition a number of colleges offer degree programmes in European Studies. As part of the National Strategy on Higher Education to 2030 increasing attention will be paid to the internationalisation of curricula, to strengthening foreign language capacity, and to forging closer collaboration and partnerships between Ireland and EU institutions of higher education.

 Other dimensions

The North South Ministerial Council was established in December 1999, as a consequence of the Good Friday Agreement. The Council comprises Ministers of the Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish Government, working together to take forward co-operation for the mutual benefit of both parts of the island.  The NSMC meets in Sectoral format to oversee co-operation in 12 agreed areas, one of which is education. The NSMC meets in Education Sectoral format about twice a year.

In education, a number of Joint Working Groups, dealing with special education, pupil attendance/retention, literacy/numeracy, child protection, teacher qualifications/pensions and school, youth and teacher exchange were established. These were consolidated into two groups – The Educational Underachievement Working Group and the North South Teacher Qualifications Working Group.