Books and Bullets
As there were so many highlights on our excursion, I do not really know which one to pick as the best highlight. However, since I have to choose one I think my highlight were the school visits with our project group. It was very interesting to have the opportunity to get first-hand insights into Northern Irish schools and to be able to talk to teachers (some of them seemed to be what we imagine to be “Irish originals“) and students. We visited all boys schools in both Belfast and Derry and were very amazed how sincerely we were welcomed. The teachers and students really put a lot of effort into introducing the school to us and showing us around to see the site and lessons and offering us to eat lunch in their school. The teachers or headmasters even accompanied us to the cafeteria and ate lunch together with us and it was very delicious in both schools. I think it was even better than in the “Mensa“, although chips seem to be served as a side dish for nearly every meal.
We discussed the school uniforms in both schools and after the conversation with the headmasters I am convinced that school uniforms are a good thing, because at least in school the pupils do not have to compete with each other concerning clothes. And since there were many poor pupils attending both schools, it seemed to be very convenient to have no clothes competition, or the so-called fashion-victims at school. In my opinion German schools should also consider to introduce uniforms (they do not need to be expensive!).
Another thing that was especially impressing in the school in Derry (but also in Belfast) was how motivated the pupils (boys!) were in subjects like art, media and music. We saw whole classes covered with high-quality student art-work (even oil paintings on canvas), a computer-animated film with characters made out of plasticine or self-made games or machines run by electricity. One pupil even told us that his favourite subject was music!
Another exciting experience were the stories the teachers and headmasters told us. In Belfast, one teacher told us that the pupils from the school usually never leave their part of town and if so they do not go farther than into Belfast city centre. Therefore they do not have a too thorough grasp of the world around them. So, one day when the school made a trip to Strangford Lough and decided to cross the lake by boat, a small pupil became very frightened on the boat and asked the teacher where they were going. The teacher wanted to make fun and replied that they were going to China, whereupon the pupil burst into tears and said: “but I don´t like to eat rice!“.
The headmaster of the school in Derry told us another shocking story. He said that in the 70`s a subgroup of the IRA used to practise shooting at targets on the school`s football field. So, one day some helicopters of the British army landed on the school grounds and the IRA-group and the army started to shoot at each other. The school was also hit by bullets, but miraculously no one was injured. Some years ago teachers still found books with holes from this gunfire in the library.