Thursday, February 08, 2007

Education Electioneering

Electioneering swung into sharp focus this morning when a gaggle of local politicians were wheeled into BBC Radio Ulster’s odious Nolan Show. The discussion (and I hesitate to use this word; ‘rant’ would be more appropriate) centered on integrated education while Nolan snorted and waved his arms in a display of predictable indignation. The entire episode reminded me of a 1970s James Young sketch, wherein various personalities exercised their sectarianism for cheap laughs. How little things have changed.

I didn’t catch the name of the Ulster Unionist representative, but he wasn’t one of the inner luminaries I recognised. He noted he was once in the UDR and squeaked for a little about terrorists in government. The DUP’s Iris Robinson upheld the state system and attacked integrated education, addressing Sinn Fein’s Catriona Ruanne as ‘That lady,’ while Ms Ruanne accused Mrs Robinson of playing the sectarian card. So far, so typical.

However, it was the SDLP’s Carmel Hannah who brought the quarrel to a depressing low in her description of local schools as either ‘Catholic schools’ or ‘Protestant schools’ thus underlining the sectarianism which I imagine is inherent in her party’s education policy. I was reminded of Richard Dawkins’ warning that we should never refer to children, for example, as ‘Catholic children’ but as ‘Children of Catholic parents’. The children are blank slates until they are conditioned, like Pavlov’s dogs, by zealous elders. Dawkins goes further and describes such contamination of child minds as akin to child abuse.

The squabble didn’t progress any further than these surface issues. No one was capable, or willing, to initiate an argument for the introduction of a secular education system. Ms Ruanne made the most coherent arguments, but stopped short of condemning the Catholic Church’s influence on schooling.

There was no mention of her own party’s mixed messages regarding the Private Finance Initiative – a government scheme which allows private companies to make huge profits through capital investment in the building of schools and hospitals. Indeed, during his brief tenure as education minister, Martin McGuinness acted like a master illusionist when he abolished the eleven-plus selection test with one hand, while administering PFI schemes with the other.

However, it would appear that the party has since backtracked on its support for PFI. In the introduction to a twenty-one-page policy paper on its website, Sinn Fein now condemns PFI as “An effort by the British Treasury to tighten its control over northern fiscal policy and to privatise public services.” Quite.

For a more coherent overview of the horrors of PFI, I suggest a trip to this article on George Monbiot’s site.

Meanwhile, I see that the Association for Quality Education (an alliance of groups opposed to the introduction of comprehensive education in Northern Ireland) has decreed that 'Computer Adaptive Testing' be considered in order to determine which child goes to which school. In short, the computer will decide. It's like something from dystopian fiction and conjures up images of rows of blank-faced children, plugged into flickering computer monitors while Stephen Nolan's missives ring in their ears.


Picoroco said...

Well done, Azoo, it should be secular education or nothing.

For further evidence of how honourable these sectarian parties have been when it comes to our children's education, have a look at Eamonn McCann's recent column in The Belfast Telegraph:

Academic Selection: a matter of principle...

They all stink.

JC Skinner said...

Ban the CCMS now. Enforce secular education.
It's the only way.

Ciarán said...

There a several issues that haven't really been addressed here. Firstly, for decades now nationalists have seen state education as English and/or Protestant education, and thus required an alternative that was only provided by the CCMS.

Also, integrated education is not the salvation that many liberals seem to believe it to be, and the NICIE acknowledges that integrated schools provide "Christian rather than secular approach to education". On an anecdotal level, a friend of mine who was looking for a school to bring his child to said that most of the people he met from the integrated sector acted like religious fundamentalists. Seriously, no thanks.

It seems that your best hope of getting secular education in the Six Counties is by going into the Irish-medium sector. Gaelscoileanna are under the authority of Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta, with the exception of a dew few rural schools under the CCMS, and while they obviously recognise that most children attending these schools have Catholic parents, many of the scoileanna don't acknowledge religion at all except the major festivals, and to accommodate things like the First Communion and Confirmation that kids do. Many of these schools draw up their own policies on the role of religion in education to let parents know to what extent it will be included in school life.

Nonetheless, it's a pet peeve of mine when people talk about education in the Six Counties and ignore the Irish-medium sector.

The Great Wee Azoo said...

Ciaran, You're quite right to uphold the status of Irish language schools as arenas devoid of religious influence. They currently stand as the only schools a parent wishing to protect their children from the malignancy of religion could possibly consider. A friend of mine once taught in an integrated school and noted how, come school assembly time, the kids from non-Christian families had to wait in the hall while the kids from Christian families were forced into Christian ceremony.