Imagine... children from both a Protestant and Catholic community background going to the same school building for their education. Imagine them going to the same classrooms (at different times), using the same sports facilities (at different times) and going to the same assembly hall (at different times) in different uniforms.
Imagine children going to two different schools, with two different principals and two different sets of principles. Imagine those two groups of children going on their school trips; one school goes to visit the new peace centre at the Maze, the other visits the new peace centre at Long Kesh.
Imagine this is Northern Ireland boldly going forward into a new era of ‘shared’ education.
Is this how you always dreamed it would be?
Green Party NI believes that shared education as proposed by the current Northern Ireland Executive is a misnomer. The education will be mostly or wholly separate, the only thing that will be shared is the buildings.
This is not a model of educating children from different backgrounds together with a common curriculum. So called ‘shared’ education is a way of sustaining the current system of segregated education in the face of falling enrolment numbers and crumbling buildings in need of replacement.
This a win-win with the Department of Education only having to fund one new building rather than two (or more) and the controlled and Catholic maintained sectors being able to maintain their (largely) single identity status.
However it could be a lose-lose for the pupils.
I went to Grosvenor Grammar School which shared a site and a canteen with Orangefield High School. While these were both predominantly Protestant schools there was a socio economic and academic divide. Rather than bringing children from different backgrounds and abilities together, being of different schools with different uniforms and different intake criteria on the same site achieved only one thing; an emphasis on difference.
Orangefield pupils were seen as the enemy. They thought we were snobs, we thought they were ‘spides’. I mean they wore white socks!
Just like putting two communities side by side increases tensions, putting two schools cheek by jowl will do the same.
Truly shared education such as that offered at integrated schools goes beyond simply bringing children together in the same building but puts them in the same classroom and teaches them about themselves and each other as well as challenging attitudes that create division in our society. Integrated education brings children of all abilities together from all religions and none for the common good.
Integrated education is a step towards a fully inclusive single education system. So called ‘shared’ education could prove to be a step back and is an example of a ‘shared out’ future. Integrated education offers us a shared now.
To paraphrase Martin Luther King;
I have a dream that my two little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by their perceived religious background but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today!
But the reality of shared education is a nightmare.