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Shared education is way forward

November 22, 2011

There is something slightly surreal about the plan to start Northern Ireland’s first Ulster Scots school in Co Down.

The primary school at Ballykeigle is under threat of closure by one government department,and yet could be rescued by funds coming from another government department. Those backing the project say the incorporation of an Ulster Scots ethos into the school curriculum will attract more pupils, removing the main reason for potential closure. Those behind the plan have a strong case. It is difficult to argue against the creation of an Ulster Scots school – with possibly more to follow – given that there are already a number of Irish language medium schools at both primary and secondary level throughout Northern Ireland. It has already been accepted that the Ulster Scots heritage, culture and language should be given equal status to Irish, and that both add to the diversity within the province.

However, ideally, and especially at primary school level, it would be better if all traditions in the province were taught in shared schools and from a curriculum that caters for the diverse cultural aspirations of all communities. Educating young people during their formative years with a partial view of any subject should be avoided where possible as we are only too aware in this province of the misunderstandings that can arise.
That is not to say that Ulster Scots literature, culture and language should not have a rightful place in the mainstream curriculum. It should and will enrich the experience of all pupils who learn about it. Everyone is entitled to know the influences which shaped them and their communities but to learn those to the exclusion of other influences would be a mistake.

At a time when all essential budgets are under strain, it would seem strange that a further education sector may emerge in spite of compelling evidence that shared education, not further diversification, is the way forward.

Belfast Telegraph