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Would you help a refugee?

Fifth year students from Crescent College Comprehensive SJ in Limerick have won the ‘1st Place Senior Group – Behaviour and Social Sciences’ prize at this year’s BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition in the RDS, Dublin, which took place from January 10 to 13. They also received an award for their project from Trinity College Dublin, for “raising awareness of our role as global citizens.”

Students Thomas Gomes, Donnacha Henchy and Jack Murthagh wanted to see if secondary school students, college students, and adults have any bias for or against refugees and migrants in their moral decision making. To test this they had a sample of over 1,000 people from those groups including students from Jesuit schools, fee paying and non-fee paying. They used an experimental and a control questionnaire with ten moral dilemmas including hypothetical everyday-life like situations. The yes/no answers assessed the participants willingness to help or not help a person in need. The person in need’s identity in the control questionnaire was said to be that of a local, white person and the person in need in the experimental questionnaire was a refugee or migrant. Statistical analysis was used in their procedures which included the demographic of the participants.

From this more than adequate statistical example, the boys drew conclusions from the answers to the moral dilemmas posed in their surveys. One of their findings was that girls were more likely to help refugees and migrants than boys. It was also discovered that single sex schools were more likely to help than co-educational schools, and fee paying schools were more likely to help than non-fee paying schools. Significantly, adults were most likely to help refugees which is supported by Kohlberg’s theory of cognitive development that as people progress through the different stages of moral development, they become more cognitively able to resolve conflict.

Overall, the project showed that people were more likely to help refugees and migrants than local, white persons in need. A separate survey regarding refugees and the Irish school system was conducted with teachers of Jesuit schools. While most felt that a total reform of the Irish education system was not required to assist refugees, they did recommend more places to be made available in schools for them and for migrants.

Chaplain Gráinne Delaney noted that the students responded very well to the judge’s challenging and in-depth questions about their project. Their long months of preparation – working 6-day weeks – clearly showed in their detailed knowledge of the experiment they engaged in and the nuanced nature of the information it yielded.

She was particularly pleased that their project was in the category of the social sciences, and that it pushed out the boundaries vis a vis more traditional scientific investigation. She felt this would give encouragement to other schools to conduct similar boundary- stretching projects in the future.

The boys paid tribute to their parents and the school for their practical support they received throughout their long months of hard work.

You can find out more about the three students, their motivation and success through their podcast interview above with Pat Coyle of Irish Jesuit Communications.