TALKING ABOUT DEATH AT SCHOOL: ARE THE TEACHERS PROPERLY TRAINED AND READY TO ASSUME THEIR RESPONSIBILITIES REGARDING TO THIS ETHICAL ISSUE IN DIVERSITY CONTEXTS?
University of Mons (BELGIUM)
About this paper:
Conference name: 9th annual International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 14-16 November, 2016
Location: Seville, Spain
Abstract:According to Vannotti & Pereira (2004), facing the death of a relative is a tremendous ordeal for a family. Hanus & Hanus (2008) confirm this conclusion: if the family balance is already modified by the arrival of a new member (birth, wedding), the disappearance of a close relative has an even more huge impact on family members’ lives. Various authors (such as Davous, 2009 or Delion, 2014) suggest that, when a child has to cope with the death of someone close, seeking outside help from a professional must remain exceptional. The child essentially needs the support from its relatives. However, these ones are often themselves devastated by the drama and emotionally destabilized by the questions of their children. If this happens, the child usually prefers to turn to someone who is less close to the deceased and the teacher then become a front-line accompanier (Beaumont, 2002; Lethierry, 2005). “How facing death in a classroom?” is therefore a question that can be raised by researchers in education.
In order to talk about death with a child, the teacher must be aware of how he will approach this issue. He has to take into account not only the child's psychological development and level of understanding but also the cultural and religious background in which the child is growing up. In order to collect data linked with our questions of research, we conducted a survey with 120 primary school teachers of the French-speaking part of Belgium. The on-line questionnaire focused on 5 themes: anamnestic data, knowledge of what their pupils know about death, feelings about discussing death in their classroom, personal experiences and professional trainings. A second sample, which is a subset of the first one, was selected in order to participate to a semi-directive interview aiming at analyzing specific issues in greater detail. Our results show that even if the teachers agree that talking about death is one of their core tasks, they don't feel comfortable with this ethical issue. They highlight how difficult it can be to talk with their pupils about facts of life, especially when the group is characterized by a large diversity of religions and cultures. They feel stressed and powerless with respect to this kind of challenges. At most, they often use children's literature to tackle the sensitive issues in their classroom and when they are caught off-guard by a situation, they ask for help among their colleagues. They regret that they did not receive adequate specific training and guidance and they would appreciate to receive more information about major religions and conceptions of the cycle of life and death. Finally, they also claim more practical approaches and user-ready pedagogical tools because these dramatic events can happen at any time during school year.
Keywords: Ethical issues in education, talking about death at school, primary school education.