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The Titanic Schools Project: Applying our intriguing maritime past to future challenges

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The Titanic Schools Project: Applying our intriguing maritime past to future challenges
by Maria HASSAN
9 April 2021

Inspired by his family history and a career in engineering, 20 years ago Terry Madill began The Titanic Schools Project. Since then, the project — which links schools across Northern Ireland with each other as well as with educational institutions across the world — has reached almost 8,000 young people across four continents. 

The Titanic is of huge cultural significance and it is widely regarded as a symbol of innovation and industry. Madill, the fifth generation of his family to work in the Harland and Wolff shipyard, has a unique understanding of Belfast’s maritime heritage and a strong belief that “the purpose of history is not to eulogise the dead but to inspire the living”. The history of The Titanic creates intrigue and commands a high level of engagement amongst its young participants. This then allows for the exploration of more contemporary themes, including environmentalism and peacebuilding.

Madill’s flair for storytelling and genuine enthusiasm for the history of The Titanic takes younger audiences on a journey, from The Titanic’s construction in Belfast’s iconic shipyards to its launch on 31st May 1911. The Titanic Schools Project aims to build positive relationships, by giving children of all ages, ethnicities, religions and abilities the opportunity to work together and learn from one another. Madill, an advocate for integrated education, was keen to stress that the legacy of The Titanic does not belong to any single community group. Therefore, all of his educational programmes are delivered on a cross-community basis, offering a space for peacebuilding and community development.

The project not only addresses issues of the past, but also looks to the future. Recognising climate change as the greatest challenge ahead of our young people, Madill, who is a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) Ambassador, decided to use the story of The Titanic as a hook to engage older pupils with STEM subjects. With a view to encouraging awareness of and interest in green energy, Madill hosted The Titanic Energy Challenge alongside MLAs at Stormont, with sponsorship from industry leaders in the field of renewable energy. Qualifications, skills and experience in this area are widely sought after, and these links to industry add value to the project by raising aspirations, signposting job opportunities, and increasing employability within the renewable energy sector.

The last 20 years have not been without challenges. The project was put on hold as Madill moved abroad to fulfil work commitments. Securing and sustaining funding has also proved difficult amidst budget cuts and bureaucracy. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has almost entirely halted the provision of extra-curricular activities by external organisations. However, Madill is determined that this ship will not sink. With a relaunch planned for the upcoming academic year, The Titanic Schools Project will be delivered to school groups in person when the time is right. Meanwhile, they are keen to expand their programme to include interactive online lessons, to encourage engagement with STEM subjects, facilitate cross-community development, and preserve Belfast’s maritime history for the next generation.

The Titanic Schools Project are currently seeking an enthusiastic education professional to join their team and assist in the delivery of the programme. If interested, please contact Terry Madill at kwt.engineer@gmail.com 

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