Belfast Telegraph

Educate Northern Ireland's youngsters together

By Rebecca Hall

More than 15 years after the Belfast Agreement, our politicians have still made little or no progress in ensuring young people are educated together.

The awful scenes of violence here over the past year demonstrate the need to create a future free from division and the need to educated children together.

As a student from Great Britain coming to study in Northern Ireland, leaving family and friends and moving into halls with people I didn't know was a big move for me.

When we settled into our rooms, we went to the kitchen and were chatting and getting to know each other.

What sports teams do you like? What are you studying? What did you do this summer?

Everyone was having a laugh and trying to break through the typical awkward greetings.

One thing I will never forget from that very first night in halls was the words of one of my flatmates: "I've never met a Protestant before".

As the reality of what he said sank in, it gave me my first experience of the impact of division here: this person had never met, or socialised with, someone from across the community until his first week at university.

For many young people here, going to university, or college, will be the first time they have the opportunity for real integration.

I know that my shock in what he said was due to my own upbringing in a multi-faith environment, which I took for granted.

However, from whichever perspective I view the situation, I just cannot seem to rationalise division.

While it's positive that the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister has published Together: Building a United Community, it must be adapted to incorporate ambitious actions on integrated education.

It's important that all political leaders commit to integrated education; that means schools with a full integrated ethos, no half-measures.

How long will Northern Ireland have to wait to have a fully integrated schools system?

Hopefully, it won't be another 15 years.


Rebecca Hall is president of the NUS-USI student movement

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