Yesterday in a speech the Rt Hon. Peter Robinson MLA, Northern Ireland’s First Minister, spoke about the need for to end the “benign apartheid” of the Northern Irish education system. He is advocating setting up a commission to looking at total integration of the different sectors.
There already is a growing integrated sector within the community but the First Minister does not believe this voluntary shift is moving fast enough, with enough ‘critical mass’ to make a real difference.
In calling for a commission to look at change the First Minister does acknowledge there will be difficulties such as religious education, school assembly devotions, the curriculum and that it will not be an overnight achievement.
“It may take ten years or longer to address this problem, which dates back many decades, but the real crime would be to accept the status quo for the sake of a quiet life.
“The benefits of such a system are not merely financial but could play a transformative role in changing society in Northern Ireland.”
I’m glad to see the move to integrated education in Northern Ireland being raised at the highest level. When I was going up to secondary school, in 1981, a new project was starting at Lagan College (pictured) a first planned integrated secondary school. Twenty eight pupils that year attended classes in a scout hut. My parents being teachers toyed with the idea of sending me there, but not being certain of the levels of education attainment at that time decided against it.
These days a generation later my nephews attend an integrated primary school and hopefully will move on the integrated secondary.
As Mr Robinson says:
“Future generations will not thank us if we fail to address this issue.”
That is true and I hope that the First Minister will also look at another form of educational apartheid in some of our schools; the failure to acknowledge same-sex relationships in RSE classes (Relationships and Sexuality Education). Also the failure by some to set up homophobic bullying policies. If we’re going for total integration may as well make it do exactly what it says on the tin.