This morning I found myself in the interesting and probably unprecedented position of agreeing with our DUP First Minister, Mr Peter Robinson. Northern Ireland has a crazy educational system with two main school sectors, the State sector and the Catholic Maintained sector. The former is open to all, but is mainly Protestant, and the latter, as implied by the name, is controlled by the Catholic church and is overwhelmingly Catholic. Peter Robinson would not be the first to point out that this system is medieval, divisive and hugely expensive. It is also seriously unfair that one religion, i.e. Roman Catholic Christianity, is effectively subsidised in its indoctrination of children.
So is it time to abolish the Catholic Maintained Sector, and bring all the education of children into the State Sector?
There is an Integrated Sector in Northern Ireland education, but it remains small and it is not clear that it should be distinguished from what *all* schools should be doing. Education should be free and fair, should not give advantage to particular religious viewpoints, and should promote co-existence, tolerance, and best practice.
What about religious education? It has been clear for years that RE should not be used as an opportunity for wily proselytisers to win converts, but should be education ABOUT religion. It should discuss a wide variety of religions and belief systems (including atheism and secular humanism of course) in order to teach children what these various beliefs mean, and should be geared towards tolerance in a pluralist society.
Problem sorted. Can we all now get behind this campaign and have our children educated together without regard for the beliefs of their parents? Can we dismantle Northern Ireland's educational apartheid?
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