Belfast Telegraph

We must hold onto our young talent

Stephen Clarke is the sixth form co-ordinator at New-Bridge Integrated College, Loughbrickland
Stephen Clarke is the sixth form co-ordinator at New-Bridge Integrated College, Loughbrickland

By Stephen Clarke

The LucidTalk poll certainly reflects my experience over more than 10 years in New-Bridge Integrated College: young people are interested and engaged in political issues and processes. As sixth form co-ordinator I teach lively, alert, ambitious students. Many are already voters. Their voices should be heard and their opinions taken into account.

Today's young people are aware of the myriad of exciting university and career opportunities available outside Northern Ireland. Many are looking for pastures new – and for a different political landscape.

At the recent Integrated Education Fund hustings event at Stormont, it was found that most of the young audience saw their future as being beyond Northern Ireland. Recently, the Belfast Telegraph reported that two-thirds of young people polled wanted to leave. This should be ringing alarm bells with political leaders.

Are we to lose our next generation to other countries, other economies? In a school where diversity is cherished and consideration of other perspectives is nurtured, we want young people to develop a global awareness and to be outward-looking. I would encourage those who wish to travel and widen their horizons to do so. But we need to bring them back. We need that broad vision to take Northern Ireland into a hopeful future.

This year we have hosted visits by the Minister for Education and the Minister for Justice, who have debated with our students and heard their opinions.

We are fortunate to have such well-educated, articulate and talented young people in Northern Ireland, who can make such a positive contribution to our society and the economy. It is imperative that more politicians engage with schools, genuinely listen to young people and give them the confidence that they can achieve their ambitions here in a peaceful, inclusive and shared society. Which by most accounts ... is what they want!

  • Stephen Clarke is the sixth form co-ordinator at New-Bridge Integrated College, Loughbrickland

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