Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

An education in ways to tackle division

At this time of worry verging on anguish as parents seek to do the right thing for their children entering post-primary education, the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education has produced a leaflet informing parents on how their children can transfer to an integrated school without having to undergo the trauma of an entrance exam.

Noreen Campbell, the new head of NICEA, has said that the 20 integrated colleges have established a reputation for educational excellence in a positive learning environment.

According to her, the pay off is the privilege of learning together with pupils from other backgrounds.

That's all fine and good; but more has been asked of integrated education than just having pupils rub shoulders together in class.

Right from the beginning of the 1989 education reforms, integrated schools have been expected to actively pursue tolerance and mutual understanding among their pupils as well as academic excellence.

The Government of the day was very clear on this matter.

It recognised that tolerance and mutual understanding are at the very heart of democratic life.

As we all know, democracy needs open discussion, freedom of speech, tolerance and respect for the opinions of others in order to flourish.

What the Government of the day was asking integrated schools to do was nothing less than to create the conditions that would allow pupils not only to tackle common concerns through democratic action, but also carry this way of life forward into the post-school world.

Properly done, integrated education doesn't offer pupils the comfortable world of academe; still less does it provide shelter from the agony and anger in a divided society.

Rather, it offers them a practical way to tackle division, bigotry and downright stupidity on their journey towards the common good both in and out of school. It is not an easy option; but it is without doubt a worthwhile one.

PETER WHITEHOUSE

Newtownabbey

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