Earlier this month was ‘Shared Education Week’. Ironically, its theme was ‘Sharing the Present – Shaping the Future’.
The Good Friday Agreement placed a statutory obligation on the Executive and the Assembly to facilitate the development of integrated education. They’ve not only singularly failed to honour that requirement, they have collectively connived to avoid it.
I accept many pupils, teachers and parents see some merit in shared education, but shared education is not integrated education. That is no accident.
The political power bases which have been secured and developed since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement depend absolutely on a divided and segregated society. That’s the basis of both the DUP’s and SF’’s joint electoral and political strategy.
The deliberate and scurrilous replacement of integrated education with the myth of shared education is a social, political and educational scandal. It goes way beyond the collective and premeditated decision of the DUP and SF to ignore their legislative requirement to promote integrated education. It demonstrates, if further proof were needed, that both these parties have taken a decision between themselves to carve up Northern Ireland into two sectarian camps and feed off the fear, mistrust and ignorance that it generates.
The truth is it’s not even shared education: it is temporary and limited contact, more often than not an add-on rather than an integral part of learning and teaching. All the while it serves to reinforce the divisive concept of ‘separate but equal’
Given the efforts of SF and the DUP over 20 years it is not surprising that integrated education remains undeveloped. While the number of pupils attending integrated schools inches up year on year, the increases amount to less than 0.5% of the total school population. Based on that level of progress it could take up to 500 years to achieve a fully integrated system.
Meanwhile the foundations of the self-serving sectarian politics of SF and the DUP remain secure. The idea of ‘shared’ education shaping the future looks anything but hopeful.
Gemma Weir, Workers Party candidate, north Belfast