Belfast Telegraph

As parents start choosing schools, why are we wedded to system based on unquestioned acceptance of segregation?

by Noreen Campbell

December is not only associated with Christmas; it is also when parents start choosing schools.

Parental choice is the foundation of our school system. But how meaningful is choice in a divided educational system?

The presumption of our system is that schools will be chosen on the basis of religious/cultural identity.

The planning authority for Catholic schools, the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS), assumes that Catholic children will attend Catholic schools; the education and library boards assume that Protestant children will attend state-controlled schools.

Both assume only a small minority will want an integrated choice. The evidence suggests otherwise.

There are insufficient school places for those who want their children educated together.

Parents, denied an integrated choice, are expected to accept the choice they have rejected – that of single identity schooling. It does not have to be like this.

My grandchildren walk to their inclusive and multicultural local primary school. They will move on from this school to a high school, which also is inclusive, all-ability and welcoming to all.

Their schools reflects a society which is not defined by division, but which is characterised by differences – of religion, of ethnicity – differences which are accepted and celebrated. Their school reflects and prepares them for the reality of life in Canada.

In contrast, we remain wedded to a system based on an unquestioned acceptance of segregated schools.

As pointed out by President Obama on his recent visit, issues like segregated schools are not tangential to peace.

He said: "If Catholics have their schools and buildings and Protestants have theirs ... if we can't see ourselves in one another, if fear or resentment are allowed to harden, that encourages division. It discourages co-operation."

In a post-conflict society committed to building peace in a united community, it is time to heed his words and move beyond segregation towards co-operation.

Noreen Campbell is chief executive officer of the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education

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