I’m delighted to see that Peter Robinson has tackled the Catholic Church’s hold on education in Northern Ireland (story). Not because I’m a bigot, but because I believe the system produces bigots.
Indeed, a true bigot would surely want the system to stay the same with Catholic children educated in Catholic schools and Protestant children educated in state (but by default Protestant) schools.
There are a number of problems with the current system. Robinson has correctly pointed out, as I have been harping on about for years, that the current system creates segregated education which, as he terms it ‘benign apartheid’. I’ve always wondered if we would believe America was past racism if children of different colour were educated in different schools, and yet in NI we expect to transcend sectarianism while children of different religious backgrounds are educated separately.
Indeed it isn’t until a child is 16 and entering the workplace, or 18 and entering third level education, that they are exposed to significant numbers of the religious community which they have had minimal contact with. By that time the opinions of their peers and their parents have taken root, and, if not sectarianism then certainly suspicion has taken root. I’ve seen it, I’ve been a part of it, and I want nothing to do with a system which educates children separately based on their religion.
It is especially dangerous for this generation who are not offered the same opportunities for cross community projects that children were ten years ago.
There’s also the problem of what is being taught – I remember a teacher in my state/protestant school teaching Irish history with a certain bias, knowing she had a certain audience.
Robinson has said the right thing, and whilst it holds power coming from the First Minister, the Catholic community need to hear it from one of their own, otherwise it might justbe spun by nationalists as a bigoted diatribe or a hypocritical ideal (like here, for example)
The SDLP need to really think about their beliefs on this one. SF won’t back it, but Ritchie et al need to reflect the ethos of a party that did so much for NI in moving towards a shared community.