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Barriers to learning, whether physical or economic need to be torn down - John O'Dowd

8 February, 2014 - by John O'Dowd

Nelson Mandela famously said, “Education is the greatest weapon which you can choose to change the world”

It is an honour to be Minister of Education in the Executive and to play a part in changing the world of children, families and communities.

I wish to pay tribute to all those who play their part in education on a daily basis across the island of Ireland but particularly in the North.

All those who work in education and contribute positively to the educational wellbeing of our young people are changing the world day-by-day, child by child.

Good education is central to the success of any economy and society. Citizens afforded the right to access high quality education, will repay society over and over again.

But the most important reason for good education is self-fulfilment, the fulfilment of every human being’s hunger for knowledge.

Every citizen has that right and every citizen must have access to good education to achieve everything they can be and more.

In the North for too long education was only for the few, once broken down on crude religious lines and then as sinisterly, on socio-economic lines.

The practice of Academic Selection is not an educational question. It is an equality question. You are either for equality or you are not?

Another equality issue is the stark fact that a child from a socially disadvantaged background is half as likely to succeed in education as one who is not.

When high concentrations of children from socially deprived backgrounds are concentrated in one school the effects are exasperated.

That cruel equation is recognised as a reality in both national and international studies.

I as Education Minister can ignore it and hope it will go away on its own or I can do something tangible about it.

The harsh reality of inequality is this - it doesn’t go away on its own, you have to eradicate inequality.

Through the Common Funding Formula I have committed to significantly increase funding to schools with high levels of social deprivation to assist in the eradication of inequality.

I will issue my final decision in a number of weeks, and the objective of tackling this need will remain.

I can also confirm that no school will lose funding in the first year of the changes and any loses thereafter will be minimal.

With a limited budget I firmly believe that targeting resources toward areas of most need is justifiable, educationally defensible and within my duties under the Executive’s Programme for Government.

The Irish Language sector continues to thrive in the North.

I and previous Sinn Féin education ministers have and will continue to work with those committed to delivering high quality Irish medium education.

The number of pupils attending Irish medium schools has doubled in a decade to 4267, there are 29 stand-alone schools and ten units, with capital investment of 14m in this last 2 years.

Following decades of discrimination by Unionist and British governments, Sinn Féin have brought the sector into the heart of the Education system reversing and eradicating decades of discrimination.

In conclusion I want to welcome the news reports that Dublin City University and Trinity College are actively reviewing how they award points to Northern students who apply to their institutions. This will be good news for many young people north of the border.

I have raised this issue at North South Ministerial Council meetings and my officials have been actively engaged in seeking a solution with their Dublin counterparts.

I can see no reason why pupils from the north should face barriers to pursuing their studies in this way.

I hope that this will encourage other universities in the south to follow suit and implement a solution that will not only help young people from the north, but that will also benefit the institutions themselves.

Barriers to learning, whether physical or economic need to be torn down if we are to truly change the world through education. 

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