Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Let's back integrated education

DURING my A-Levels at Drumragh Integrated College I had the privilege of being taught Government and Politics by a brilliant young teacher called Catherine Seeley. Catherine moved on and was, until recently, teaching at a school in north Belfast.

Catherine was subjected to an awful campaign of sectarian abuse by some in that community because, as well as being a teacher, she is a Sinn Fein councillor.

Thus a talented, passionate teacher was intimidated out of that school and had to move.

Yet in the midst of this dreadful episode we can find hope. Many of Catherine Seeley's pupils stood by her.

Catherine said: "They are a testimony to the values that should permeate not just education, but every aspect of our society."

Though sectarian divisions still run deep and we must not take 15 years of peace for granted, many of the younger generation are casting off their parents' past and looking ahead.

President Obama put the spotlight on integrated education during the G8 summit by visiting Enniskillen Integrated Primary.

In his Waterfront Hall speech, the President said that ending segregated schooling and housing was essential for creating lasting peace.

President Obama is not naive; nor am I. Supporters of integrated education know that it can't cure all our troubles.

But educating our young people together in an atmosphere of tolerance and understanding will help engender a more understanding, mutually respectful, inclusive society.

The demand for integrated education is there. Poll after poll tells us so.

In my class of 30 pupils at Omagh Integrated Primary, when choosing post-primary schools, five chose to leave the integrated system. Within two years, four had returned.

Unfortunately, demand exceeds supply. The Executive and the Department of Education need to work to meet that demand so other children can get the same opportunities – the same excellent education – as I did.

India Fahy (19) is a past pupil of Omagh Integrated Primary School and Drumragh Integrated College

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