Sunday, 17 October 2010

Posted Elsewhere and the Story Rolls On - Northern Ireland Education

Over the weekend here in Northern Ireland we've had a First Minister Peter Robinson calling for an end to education apartheid then a response from the Catholic Church. Which are two stories I have posted about on Liberal Democrats in Northern Ireland.

The Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has accused his colleague of "taking on" the Catholic Church about it's provision of education. But Mr Robinson is not taking on the provision of the provision but the state funding of them to church schools. This would apply to all church schools, though the largest group would be the Catholic schools.

McGuinness has said:

"If Peter thinks taking on the Catholic Church, the Catholic bishops and indeed the Protestant churches for that matter and other interest groups is a sensible route to go, I think that is a big mistake.

"I think what we have to do is try and achieve and continue to build a consensus within our society about the need to develop shared services.

"If you go for a head-on collision with the so-called vested interests, that is a collision course which will lead us into a total and absolute mess."

Now I do think it is heading for a collision course, indeed I've said down the years how ludicrous the provision of new dual schools on one site sectarian primary schools in Scotland have been built. The separation of children for education purposes builds in difference, a barrier, a sense of otherness.

Donal Flanagan, chief executive of CCMS (Council for Catholic Maintained Schools) added to McGuinness's comments with:

"He is certainly not speaking as an educationalist because everybody knows that ethos adds value to education.

"If Peter Robinson wants an open, honest and inclusive debate on the future of education in Northern Ireland then why would he choose a platform at the installation of a DUP mayor in Castlereagh to launch this so I have to question his motive."

Well my mother is a educationalist. What's more she is someone who was involved in that most divisive of Northern Irish board curriculum items Religious Education. Earlier today she was telling me about the Education for Mutual Understanding (EMU) element which first came into Northern Ireland in 1983.

She was saying that there are some education establishments some are in the Catholic sector, some are in the state sector in staunch loyalist areas, who only paid lip service to EMU provision to their pupils. The education equivalent to break down that barrier wasn't and isn't working. She wishes that other children could have been like me and my brother, playing with our catholic neighbours outside of school time. Learning from an early age that there is no difference in them as individuals, rather than as some have to do after a separate education and housing system only learning that when they enter the workplace.

What Peter Robinson has done is to ask us in Northern Ireland to look deep within ourselves. To ask what is the problem? Where does it stem from? Is there anything we can do? It is a bold move. It is one that is not meant to devalue educationalists but to build up our children, build up our future and make the generations to come ones that Northern Ireland will be proud of.

We haven't fully dealt with the age old problems, isn't about time that we did?

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