Belfast Telegraph

Children in Northern Ireland must learn together

By Baroness Blood

There is no better investment in Northern Ireland's future than our young people. Therefore, their education must be a priority.

Not just in terms of academic learning - though that is important - but in terms of social development, a respect for diversity and ease around difference which we will need in a fast-changing, exciting, but challenging world.

I am hopeful. A year ago, I could not have predicted that a pledge coming out of Stormont, involving the British and Irish governments and Northern Ireland political leaders, would contain a multi-million-pound financial package for capital commitments to shared and integrated education. This was clearly a hugely significant development, with support across all parties.

Unfortunately, as we know, political stalemate has left implementation of that agreement in the balance. But this is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss.

We must do all we can to ensure that this commitment to offer children the chance to learn, play and grow together is taken forward - fast.

We have waited long enough. The Education Act of 1989 created a statutory duty to "encourage and facilitate the development of integrated education" and this was copper-fastened in the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

However, many children who were babies at that time have completed a full cycle of schooling without the opportunity to experience diversity and learn with and from others of different traditions and backgrounds.

The growth of integrated education still faces challenges and obstacles in spite of the many successive surveys showing public support for integrated provision and the research underlining the benefits it offers children.

A move to release this money and build on the foundations laid by parents, campaigners and communities would show real progress for our politicians. It is a plan which could represent a real willingness to move forward - together.

It is the latest of many pledges to offer hope for young people and for the vast majority of parents, who want a new vision for education in Northern Ireland.

So why are we waiting - yet again - for politicians to make good on that?

Baroness (May) Blood is campaign chair of the Integrated Education Fund

Belfast Telegraph


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