Tag Archives: integrated education

Integrated Education – time to take it seriously?

I remember reading Brian Mawhinney’s book and being fascinated and appalled by the vitriol that came his way for his part in bringing in integrated education.  I’ve long thought that part of our problem of a divided society begins with education. When children from differing religious backgrounds don’t get the opportunity to mix, no wonder suspicions and caricatures grow. I grew up in a loyalist part of Belfast where we were told you could tell Catholics because their eyes were closer together.  Zoomtard (although growing up in the Republic of Ireland) was told the same thing about Protestants. My attitudes began to change through school – not that we were an integrated school – it was mostly protestant but was mixed. In fact I think it is one of the only secondary schools in Northern Ireland which has a school motto in Gaelic – it certainly was back then. As I grew up with friends from differing religious backgrounds, the other ‘side’ became people who were my friends who I loved and laughed with. The integrated education debate has stirred again with Johann Hari’s comment piece in today’s Independent, although to say:

But here’s the good news: there is a proven way out. There is a policy that has been shown to erode these hatreds. They are called integrated schools – and the parents of Northern Ireland are calling for them. Today, only five per cent of children in Northern Ireland go to a mixed school. The other 95 per cent are segregated in sectarian enclaves where they project feverish fantasies on to the other side. Violence is an inevitable bedsore where two uncomprehending tribes rub past each other in a small space.

But that 5 per cent hold the key. A six-year study by Queen’s University, Belfast has looked at the long-term consequences of being schooled alongside The Enemy. They interviewed adults who attended these schools – and found that whatever their parents’ attitudes, they were “significantly more likely” to oppose sectarianism. They had “far” more friends across the divide,

Is perhaps a little overly optimistic.

The issue is certainly raising hackles within the hierarchy of the Catholic church. Although more related to the issue of  school management reform, Cardinal Brady is using the argument of protecting religious freedom for maintaining the status quo and safeguarding the “right of parents to have their children educated at Catholic schools”. In the broader picture of division and sectarianism how should the church respond?  Is playing the religious freedom card an appropriate resonse? One does have to ask the question – are the Catholic Bishops who called academic selction at 11 an ‘injustice’ willing to bring the same biblical understanding to ending their grip on schools? Are the Protestant churches prepared to stand with the Catholic Church and call for an end to segregated education? No matter what we teach children in citizenship classes, it is only when friendships can be built that prove the divide is one constructed for the sectarian means of some is a hollow one…

It’s not the quick fix, but it certainly would be an important step…