Belfast Telegraph

Segregated education must end

By Noreen Campbell

The Peace Walk, uniting hundreds of students in north Belfast last week, has brought Christmas cheer to the news. Young people connecting, getting to know each other, becoming friends. Surely a good news story?

On the surface, yes, but only if we accept the premise that it is both normal and acceptable to educate our children separately.

The walk was only newsworthy because normally these young people do not meet; a special event had to be constructed to enable this to happen.

Just as with shared education, such events are positive for those directly involved. Just as with shared education, they work within the status quo of division and leave it unchallenged.

By presenting division and separate living and education as the norm, such events inhibit the debate needed for change.

The implied message of the Peace Walk is the presumption that peaceful coexistence in a divided society is the best we can hope for. Opinion polls suggest the public wants a different dynamic; a shared future to the shared-out one which is presented as the inevitable reality.

It does not have to be like this. For 30 years Hazelwood Integrated College in north Belfast has successfully educated together young people from Catholic and Protestant backgrounds, along those of no faith and those from different faiths and ethnicities.

It has educated boys and girls together, it brings together children of different abilities and from all social classes in an inclusive and welcoming environment.

Friendships are forged, minds and hearts are opened as children learn with, about and from each other in an environment of respect and without dilution of religious or national identity.

As we approach a new year and one in which we have Assembly elections, should we not be debating what type of society we want our young people to inherit?

If it is one where difference and diversity is cherished, where equality underpins progress, where independent thought is encouraged, surely it is time to dismantle our segregated system of education and educate our children and young people together?

  • Noreen Campbell was principal of Hazelwood Integrated College and CEO of the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education

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