Young Orangemen in Co Armagh have set about tackling educational underachievement amongst working-class Protestant males.
The Pioneers project is the brainchild of a group of Orangemen who are involved with Kilbracks Bible and Crown Defenders JLOL 75 in Markethill.
Each Tuesday night, junior Orangemen gather to study English and Maths for their GCSEs as part of a scheme that the lodge believe can be extended throughout the Orange Order.
Junior Lodge chairman Calvin Reid, 17, explained how the Pioneers project came about: “As Orangemen we have a burden to help our community in every way we can and in particular we want to encourage and help our young people, who are absolutely vital to our community.
“The most fitting way we believe we can help our young people is to provide support for their educational studies, notably their GCSEs.”
A summary report issued by Queen’s University in 2015 stated: “A key inequality outlined in the Equality Commission’s 2008 statement on education inequalities was the underachievement and lack of progression of male working-class Protestants. This inequality has persisted.
Mr Reid added: “Underachievement amongst working-class Protestant males is rife.
“There has never been a bigger disparity in regards to education in recent times. Unfortunately in this climate of ‘equality’ no-one seems willing to tackle this major issue and it is especially worrying as it is something that is paramount to our nation’s future success.
“Pioneers, in some small way, was set up to battle this epidemic in our community and enable our young people to become the best that they can be.”
He said the scheme was open to “all young men and women within the Junior Orange movement”.
Mr Reid said: Our project reinforces the fact that the Orange Order is a major stakeholder in our society and that the institution has a vital role to play.
“Pioneers also bears testimony to the fact that Orangeism is a lot more than the Twelfth of July. In days gone by the Orange Order has provided for those within the Protestant community in times of need, we very much feel that we are continuing that tradition.
“Pioneers is a brightly shining beacon that shows all that is good about Orangeism.”
He said the project currently had six ‘pioneers’ based in Markethill, but had the potential to expand across the country.
One of those young people taking part in the project is Kris Cartmill, who said: “I find the course extremely helpful as the classes are very small, therefore I get a lot more one-on-one with the teacher which helps me understand things that I could never grasp the concept of while in a large class.
“I personally struggle with English but since I have started attending Pioneers I have noticed a significant improvement in simple things like spelling and punctuation.”