First Minister Peter Robinson has underlined the value of sharing and integration at a ceremony to celebrate a language project in County Down.
Awarding certificates to primary school “graduates” of the Sharing Languages, Sharing Cultures project, Mr Robinson praised everyone involved – the schools of all management types who join on a cross-cultural basis for language classes; Shimna Integrated College which runs the project; parents who have been supportive throughout ; Queens University’ Sharing Education Programme which backed the SLSC in its early years and funders Dr Gerard O’Hare and Atlantic Philanthropies who have helped keep the programme going.
He said “I want to see a situation where what you do is not the exception but is replicated all across Northern Ireland. I believe that shared education is the way forward for Northern Ireland and you have taken an important step along that road and one which is supported by schools from right across the community. I want to see what you are doing as the start of a process by which all of our children from the earliest age have the opportunity to live and learn together. If we are to make a real impact we must build bridges not for a single crossing but for a permanent link from one side to another. This programme has laid a solid foundation.”
The Sharing Languages, Sharing Cultures project involves 253 children in small, rural, single-identity and integrated primary schools joining for language lessons and workshops, co-ordinated by teacher Laura O’Hare from Shimna Integrated College.
Laura says “The real value of our project is in the long-term, sustainable partnerships it promotes. The children learn languages in weekly classes as part of their normal timetable, enriching the curriculum. This year the project will grow, providing opportunities for parents of children in the partner schools to meet and learn together, and also for the teachers to have funded time to plan further collaborations across the curriculum.”
When the original Sharing Education Programme grant came to an end, the Integrated Education Fund was delighted to be able to introduce businessman Dr Gerard O’Hare CBE to the project. Dr O’Hare (of Parkergreen International) was so impressed that he pledged to help the project continue, and Atlantic Philanthropies stepped in to provide matching funding, maintaining the project for a further three years. Shimna IC and the partner schools also raise what funds they can.
Dr O’Hare said, “I think this project is a fantastic opportunity for these young graduates and I am delighted that our First Minister Peter Robinson recognises that by joining us at the event. As we become a more multicultural society here in Northern Ireland it is vital that our young people understand and respect other cultures. From a business perspective it is essential for growth in many industries that a company can operate in other markets. By giving our young people a grasp of other languages and cultural diversity we are creating future adults very able for the world of business.”
At the event, Dr O’Hare accepted a Times Educational Supplement ‘Outstanding Community Partnership Award’ for the project on behalf of the funders and schools. Ian McMillan, a former teacher at Shimna IC who initiated the Sharing Languages Sharing Cultures programme, was also given and award.
Children from the Kilkeel, Castlewellan and Newcastle areas wore graduation gowns and mortar boards to receive certificates for their achievements in the scheme.
The ceremony continued with dance, songs from the pupils in German and Spanish, and a solo performance from internationally-celebrated singer Tommy Sands, who also entertained us with an excerpt from his autobiography and an animal fable about the importance of learning languages!
Both Peter Robinson and Dr O’Hare spoke about their memories of childhood encounters with people from different backgrounds. The First Minister added that the work done with these schools now is an investment in everyone’s future and said “It’s an issue I care deeply about. Building mutual respect and tolerance is a lesson not just for the young people in our society.”
© Credit – Pictures By Declan Roughan / Declan Roughan Photography
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