We are delighted with the turnout and response to our Féile event, Let’s Talk about Education, yesterday at St Mary’s University College which saw our esteemed contributors discuss the role that education can play in building peace. Many thanks to our speakers, the event Chair and Féile an Phobail.
Chair of the event was Gerry McConville, Director of Falls Community Council and Chair of the West Belfast Partnership Board.
In her engaging Welcome & Introduction, Baroness May Blood emphasised that “education is a passport to life” and that we need to encourage mixing at an earlier age, through integrated education. She also noted that integrated education starts from the grassroots and highlighted the Integrate My School campaign as a tool for parents to support more schools becoming integrated.
Our first speaker, Robin Wilson drew parallels between Bosnia & Herzegovina, the work of the Council of Europe and our local context in Northern Ireland in terms of managing cultural diversity, proposing that intercultural competence forms a key feature of education.
Koulla Yiasouma provided an overview of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and concluded that it isn’t being met in Northern Ireland. She for instance highlighted the long tail of underachievement, in particular among children and young people in the areas most affected by the conflict. Koulla further stressed that our children need to be taught together in schools that are welcoming of all religions, cultures, abilities, genders and classes, noting that “we all make up individual pieces of a wonderful cake”.
Máire Thompson, former Principal of Malone Integrated College, reflected on her experience of working in an integrated education environment. She highlighted that Malone IC is a very diverse school with pupils from a variety of backgrounds. In addition, the school has a high level of pupils eligible for Free School Meals. The ethos of the school is that everyone is welcome. Máire concluded that with increasing diversity in our society, we need to address increasing racism.
Following an engaging Q&A session, conclusions were drawn that we need to eradicate the policy flaws in our current education system which promote inequalities and that education should meet the needs of our children and not the other way around.
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