Friday, 22 October 2010

Integrate, integrate, integrate…

AS Tony Blair said, it is all about education, education, education. And as Peter Robinson said, it’s about a “benign form of apartheid”.

And as the Catholic Church said, we’re all about parental choice. And the media across the board rubbed their hands together.

For, with the vacuum of speculation ahead of the Spending Review, the media had a nice wee juicy story partly grounded in finances and partly grounded in party politics and with barely restrained hints and allegations of below-the-line sectarianism.

Let’s be honest, the administration of education in Northern Ireland is a mess. There are empty desks in some areas, and over-subscribed schools in others. There are several education and library boards for our wee population. There is a population time bomb with rising birth rates. There is a school estate that has parts of it crumbling. Oh, and we have at least four types of schooling.

So, what can our MLAs do about it?

In truth, apart from wittering on and calling in to every radio talk show, there is no sign of any MLA being able to do anything ahead of never.

To show how pointless this all may be one should cast your eyes over the history books.

In 1923, Education Minister Lord Londonderry proposed that religious education should not be part of the curriculum in the newly formed Northern Ireland, but optional after the school day. That way it would have been possible to have fully integrated education, and he thought ‘Twould be a fine thing to have a populace that learned together to seek higher knowledge and all that.

But he reckoned not on the combined forces of the Catholic Church and cassocked campaigners, the massed bible thumping Protestant preachers and the bowler-hatted Orange Order, plus the high and low church Anglicans.

Although he was unable to set an integrated education system in place, he did succeed in uniting almost the entire population behind one cause; preventing it. There are few that have been able to achieve such a unifying effect then or since.

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