Belfast Telegraph

Parents of the future want joint schooling: poll

By Lindsay Fergus

The next generation of parents in Northern Ireland have overwhelmingly endorsed a school system in which their children will be taught side by side with pupils from across the religious divide, according to a new poll.

Almost three out of four of the 16-24-year-olds polled said that if or when they have children, they would prefer them to go to school with children of all traditions and backgrounds.

The findings show how they want an education system different from the segregated one that educated them and kept them apart from their peers.

And these young people, many of whom will be voting for the first time at next week's European and council elections, say they intend to use their vote to elect the politicians who will work for them, LucidTalk's Northern Ireland-wide poll reveals.

Almost 70% of 16-24-year-olds intend to vote when they are legally eligible – that's higher than the overall turnout of just 54.5% for the last Assembly elections in 2011.

One young person who participated in the survey remarked: "The politicians don't seem to understand what the young people want in terms of education – we want to be educated together."

The poll features six questions and also suggests that these savvy young voters and parents of tomorrow are less interested in divisive issues like flags, parades and Northern Ireland's past than in bread-and-butter issues such as job creation, health and education reform.

Tina Merron, chief executive of the Integrated Education Fund (IEF), said: "Their wish for their own children – for future generations – to learn, grow and play together without traditional divisions, is evidence of a commitment to a truly shared future for Northern Ireland."

Key findings of the first-ever youth poll, commissioned by the IEF and published exclusively in today's Belfast Telegraph, are:

  • 83.8% believe that an education system where children of all faiths and none go to the same school would be an important step in combating sectarianism.
  • In a choice of six core issues that our politicians should be focusing on most, flags, parades and dealing with the past came out bottom – with just one in five young people rating them as very important.
  • What young people would most like politicians to concentrate on is tackling the lack of jobs in the local economy – 75.7% rated that important.
  • In the other four areas, 75.6% said sectarianism should be tackled, 65.9% wanted politicians to focus on the health service, 63.5% thought education reform was important, while 54.9% said crime was the key issue.
  • 77.5% agree that a housing policy allowing people of all faiths to live in shared areas would be important in tackling sectarianism.

The outcomes should give politicians food for thought as some of the 1,075 young people who participated in the project are already voters, and others will cast their first vote on May 22. The majority of this group will have a say in the Westminster elections next year and the 16-year-olds will be choosing MLAs in 2016.

Ms Merron said: "It seems obvious from this research that most politicians do not have much direct appeal for young voters.

"Younger citizens want politicians to focus on bread-and-butter matters such as health and education. They want Northern Ireland to move forward. The overwhelming majority don't think that arguing about flags and parades should be a priority.

"These young people are aware of sectarianism as a problem and want to see it tackled, and the evidence suggests that they will support policies which drive Northern Ireland to a united future."

What the young told our poll...

“We need to learn each other’s cultures, and the way to do this is via a joint education system.”

“I would like to get to know young people from all communities in Northern Ireland, and the way to do this is joint schools.”

“We’re not going to get any progress in Northern Ireland unless we get the schools working together and have integrated education.”

“The politicians don’t seem to understand what the young people want in terms of education — we want to be educated together.”

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