Time for a truly shared education
Shared education has become the new buzzword in government circles in the past couple of years. It is probably meant to signify that the Stormont administration is serious about tackling division in society, but shared education still remains a concept of more style than substance.
For it can mean just whatever the speaker intends it to mean, and that could be very little indeed. What we do know for certain is that it is not integrated education as that phrase is commonly understood – children of all faiths and none learning side by side in the same classrooms.
But as work begins on a flagship £126m shared education campus at the former Lisanelly army camp in Omagh, the public is no nearer knowing what difference it will make to the lives of the pupils from the six schools which will be sited there. Yes, there will be children from Protestant and Catholic faiths and grammar, non-selective and special needs schools will be represented.
However, will they do more than occupy the same campus? Will their shared education be a few lessons together every week, but with the main thrust of their education coming from their own schools within the campus?
Of course it is good that children of different traditions at least share common ground. That is bound to have some benefits, eroding some of the traditional suspicions that come from living apart.
Perhaps we are wrong and the pupils will take part in extensive shared education which will explore each other's traditions and cultures as well as simply learning the mainstream curriculum.
But that would seem to be against the mood at Stormont. There has never been a huge groundswell of support from politicians for integrated – or non-segregated – education here. The various vociferous self-interest lobbies within education have also hampered development of a true single education system.
Shared education, in spite of the plans for 10 similar campuses across Northern Ireland, looks very like a fudge, suggesting much more than it delivers.