Schoolkids shrug off enmities in cyberspace

Cyberspace get-togethers between schoolchildren in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic are helping break down decades of mistrust and could provide a model for young people in conflict zones elsewhere.

These are the conclusions of research by education experts on both sides of the Irish border, to be published on Wednesday, which shows how virtual links using low-cost communications technology can change entrenched attitudes among young people.

The research is based on findings from the "Dissolving Boundaries" project, which has set up broadband computer collaborations between pupils at more than 170 schools in the north and south of religiously and politically divided Ireland.

Pupils communicate with each other through computer and video-conferencing to produce projects on topics such as "Norman Castles in Ireland", "The Irish Famine", and "Myths and Legends" and also have the chance to meet face-to-face during the year.

"We know that the right kind of contact between young people reduces prejudice," said Roger Austin from the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland suffered more than 30 years of sectarian conflict up until a peace pact in 1998. Some 95 percent of pupils in the province attend schools that are predominantly Roman Catholic or Protestant.

Experts say the success of the Irish project could pave the way for educators in the Middle East and elsewhere who are struggling to break down barriers between young people.

Closer to home, they say, the project could be applied in England to link young British-Asians to white students in some of the country's more segregated areas.

The report, "Dissolving Boundaries: Building Communities of Practice", will be unveiled at an international conference on "The role of ICT in Bridge-building" at the University of Ulster.

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