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Let's end the economic apartheid that is academic selection - John O'Dowd

13 April, 2013 - by John O'Dowd

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. A quote of WB Yeats

And a mission statement, which we should adhere to for all our young people and indeed not so young, because the pursuit of knowledge should be a lifelong project.

In regards the years of formal and indeed formative education for our young people we need to firstly light the fire of education both in the child, their parents, guardians and wider community.

My vision of education is to equip every citizen to value themselves to equip them to value their fellow citizens and be a valuable asset to society.

All citizens deserve the right to access good education, regardless of gender, creed, class or colour.

I support shared education, however some of those who claim to support shared education in the North support economic apartheid in our school system while claiming to oppose religious apartheid.

If we are to create a shared education system then lets do just that, let us break down the barriers that stop young catholic and young protestants who share socio economic deprivation from achieving the right to value themselves.

Let’s make sure that the world leading education system we have built in our primary schools, which by the way have all-ability pupils from all socio economic backgrounds, continues into our post primary schools.

Lets end the economic apartheid, which is academic selection.

Moving onto the continued investment in education led by Sinn Féin in the Northern Executive.

Despite the cuts imposed upon the Northern administration by the British Government we have secured additional funding for education. Over this last two years we have secured almost £400m additional funding for frontline education.

Sinn Féin have redirected hundreds of millions of pounds into frontline education including youth projects. We are tackling social disadvantage to ensure all young people have the right to value themselves.

As a Sinn Féin Education Minister I will continue to lobby for additional funds and explore ways of redirecting money into schools and communities to tackle social disadvantage.

The Irish Medium sector continues to flourish, we have and will continue to respond to the growing parental and community demand for children to be taught through the medium of Irish.

As a party we can be justifiably proud of the role we have played in responding to and supporting the growth of Irish medium.

There is much more to do but rest assured Irish medium education is now an integral equal part of the North's education system, it is protected in legislation and it is here to stay.

We continue to develop work programmes through the work of the North/South Ministerial Council, having two education systems operating back to back particularly along the border is a waste of resources and a wasted opportunity to give our young people the best start in live.

We will however continue to build greater effective cooperation through the structures of the Good Friday Agreement

Comrades in conclusion

Sinn Féin over this last decade have lifted an education system which failing to light the fire in too many young peoples hearts to a system which is world leading at primary level.

We have more work to do and many challenges ahead but we are making real change.

The exam results of our young people improve year on year at post primary but here too we have more work to do.

We have the policies and the commitment to continue to light the fire of education in all our young peoples hearts.

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