Education – North and South

 

Sir, – An issue often ignored in discussions on integrated education in the North (Letters, November 11th) is the need for a school curriculum and exam system to reflect local interests and needs.

What those in the South may not appreciate is that the exam system here (11-plus, GCSE and A-levels) is an English one, that textbooks and teaching materials are usually from England, with little local relevance and that this applies to all schools, regardless of religious denomination. Teachers will, of course, teach to the exams, which gives little opportunity to explore the geography and history of Ireland.

Consequently children read about the Tudors and the exploits of Drake and Cook, but know little about Ulster clans, Ulster-Scots traditions, the Famine or Home Rule. Very well-educated people who attended Catholic schools here tell me they were taught at length about the Tudors but know nothing about Home Rule, which is hardly a balanced educational perspective.

Furthermore, Irish language teaching is not offered on the curriculum of primary schools in the North, even Catholic ones (apart from Gaelscoileanna, of course).

However, Catholic schools are often the only place children will get at least a little exposure to an Irish dimension in their education.

As we are surrounded by an English and UK-dominated media and press, who can blame families in the North that do not consider themselves strongly British for choosing a school that seeks to give them just a basic education about Ireland and its history, culture and language?

It’s not clear if those in control of education policy will develop a locally focused curriculum and exam system which educates children about the literature, history and geography of this island.

As Newton Emerson has suggested in the past, calls for Catholic schools to become integrated could be viewed as cultural assimilation.

Our language, culture and media are already UK dominated here. Wanting some local focus in education in the North is hardly too much to ask for. – Yours, etc,

DAMIEN BENNETT,

Belfast.

Sir, – Tom Cooper (Letters, November 11th) links integration of education with denominational integration of housing in the North. However, we down South are no role models for educational integration, pluralism or parental choice in education. And we don’t have the problem of segregated housing.

Many surveys have shown that between a quarter and a third of parents whose children currently attend denominational schools would move them to non-denominational schools if they could.

They cannot exercise their choice because throughout almost the entire country all schools within reasonable travelling distance for young children are denominational, predominantly Catholic, schools. Invariably, if a proposal to change the patronage of a particular school is made, the majority of parents will oppose that change.

Recently, in the Portmarnock and Kinsealy area of Dublin, for example, a proposal to change patronage in one school in eight was shot down within days by local education interests. Proposals for change in patronage in other parts of the country are likely to have the same results.

It is obvious that pluralism in existing schools cannot happen until such time as minority choice is vindicated centrally, even if this means some inconvenience to the majority. Currently, there is simply no will to introduce true parental choice or pluralism in our existing schools.

If and when real educational choice comes about, then, perhaps, we could legitimately comment on the education systems in other jurisdictions. But as real parental choice in education is not even on our agenda, why would anyone listen to us now? – Yours, etc,

ANTHONY O’LEARY,

Portmarnock,

Co Dublin.