Obama’s school views inaccurate says church

US President Barack Obama
US President Barack Obama

The Church of Ireland has rejected US President Barack Obama’s description of Northern Ireland’s education system as “segregated”.

The move follows similar criticism of Mr Obama’s comments last month from the Catholic Principals’ Association. The US President made his comments about education here during his visit to Northern Ireland for the G8 Summit in Enniskillen.

While in Co Fermanagh last month Mr Obama took a photocall with Prime Minister David Cameron to engage in some painting with kids at an integrated primary school in Enniskillen.

Speaking in the latest edition of the Church of Ireland Gazette magazine, secretary to the Church of Ireland’s board of education in Northern Ireland, the Rev Dr Ian W Ellis [not the editor of the Gazette] said Mr Obama’s description of Northern Ireland education as segregated was inaccurate.

He added that while there was “a diverse range of school management types in Northern Ireland and a system of parental choice which leads to Protestant and Catholic parents choosing to send their children to separate schools”, the word ‘segregated’ had “an unfortunate association with schooling under apartheid in South Africa or in the 1960s in the US where it described the segregated schooling of black and white children”.

He said this was “not a fair parallel” with the Northern Ireland schools system.

However, Dr Ellis said that while parental choice in selecting a type of school for their children should be respected, the churches were equally committed to developing “shared education” in the future.

Dr Ellis said that the Church of Ireland supported the Roman Catholic Church’s right to have its own schools, saying that as the community continued to strive towards “a more peaceful and more cohesive society”, it was vital that the rights of all sectors were respected and that all involved worked together to find ways of sharing and overcoming barriers between schools. He added: “It should also be remembered that in the Republic of Ireland the State provides for Church of Ireland denominational schools and that there are still three Church of Ireland-maintained schools in Northern Ireland.

“In England, of the total of 16,800 primary schools provided by the State, over 4,300 were founded by the Church of England and over 1,600 by the Roman Catholic Church.”