The Association of CSPE Teachers (ACT)
Supporting Citizenship Education in Ireland
as Action Project
by Brendan O'Regan
There is a variety of possible approaches for following a referendum in CSPE class. A starting point could be an investigation of the nature of a referendum. The primary resource here of course is The Constitution itself (every school should have a set! - it's a wonder the government doesn't supply a set free to each school). Articles 46 and 47 detail the constitutional provisions for a referendum, and while the language is legalistic it shouldn't be beyond the capabilities of our students, especially with a bit of simplification where necessary from the teacher. These articles could be a spark for class discussion, or the teacher (or students) could type them out, adding questions to make a worksheet. Alternatively a class group could research these articles and present their findings to the class (practising those skills vital to the Action Project Reports and Course Work Assessment Books).
The provisions of The Constitution relating to the issues at hand could also be examined. For those having difficulty finding a constitution the text is on the government's website. Other sources of information on the referendum process are the leaflets sent to schools at various stages from the information section of The Houses of the Oireachtas and The Department of the Environment. These may still be hiding somewhere in the staffroom even if they were originally nabbed by the CSPE Department (every school should have one). At this stage it might be an idea to divide the class into small groups. For example if two referenda are being covered the class could be divided into four small groups - one for and one against each referendum proposal. It would then be the task of each group to follow in the media the arguments relevant to its position, and to write up and present their findings/arguments to the class on a once off or weekly basis (perhaps in debate format).
They may need some assistance in finding the material but the teacher can provide the raw resources (e.g.. newspaper articles, letters to the paper, printouts from the web etc.) or point the students in the right direction. In the Exemplar materials for Unit 4 there are excellent guidelines on issue tracking in the media. A search on the RTE news site or the newspaper sites should prove fruitful. In recent referenda the Referendum Commission produces excellent materials. Particularly useful are the booklets sent to each home, which are usually available on their website (www.refcom.ie). The Commission may also produce short TV broadcasts on the issues which should make for even more variety if shown in class. At the end of this process there could easily be a class poll on the issues, providing plenty of reportable activities for APRs and CWABs (speeches, posters, polling, counting). Some ambitious classes have raised the stakes and organised whole school polls on referendum issues.
A study of the national count is a vital part of any referendum project. Those schools situated near a count centre could organise a students' visit to the count. There is usually plenty of room during referendum counts though it might be advisable to check in advance with the local returning officer.