The Taoiseach said he regretted that more had not been done to address the “educational disadvantage” in Northern Ireland.
Michael Martin said it’s an issue that could be “transformative.” however, acknowledged that the Irish and UK governments, as well as the Northern Ireland Executive, have not adequately addressed the issue.
He described creating a fairer education system as Northern Ireland’s “greatest challenge”.
His comments made durin ga discussion in Derry on Friday night, were supported by an academic specializing in poverty-related issues.
dr Ciara Fitzpatrick, a senior lecturer at Ulster University, said yesterday it was “crucial” that all parties agree on “radical action” to tackle poverty and educational disadvantage after the Stormont general election on May 5.
“The future of our children depends on it,” she said.
A number of reports on educational disadvantage in Northern Ireland have been produced in recent years.
The latest of these, released last June, was called A Fair Start. said the Department of Education will have to spend more than £180m over the next five years on measures to tackle educational shortages.
The report again stressed that there are “particular problems” that boys face in the world of work. Class of Protestant areas in terms of educational attainment, but said it was “not a problem unique to one congregation”.
The report’s authors said that the “most significant differences” in terms of success at the GCSE level were between those who received free school meals and those who did not, “regardless of religion, gender or ethnicity”.
speaking during an event at Derry’s Playhouse Theatre organized by the John and Pat Hume Foundation, the Taoiseach said it was a “passion” of his that every child “ get a chance to fulfill their potential” by completing school.
“My biggest concern since the Good Friday Agreement is educational disadvantage. That’s the biggest challenge for me,” he said. “There is work that needs to be done in the N ortho, cross-community.
“We need to encourage the communities with poor school qualifications encourage them to do their best to help them graduate.
“It doesn’t have to be the standard curriculum, it can be apprenticeships, it could be training, but that there are levels of achievement that can be certified and a sense of completion and progression. This is the most important thing to include those on the periphery who feel left out.
“It is one of my regrets that neither governments nor the executive branch have addressed this issue in terms of the Marshall Plan, because it would be transformative if we did.”
The Marshall Plan was a huge US-backed financial project that helped rebuild parts of Europe after World War II.
dr Ciara Fitzpatrick said failure to address educational disadvantage has a “strong correlation” with “continued failure” to address poverty issues.
“It is absolutely inexcusable that one in four children in our classes is living in poverty,” she said. “That number is likely to skyrocket due to the cost of living crisis.
“Thousands of families are expected to fall into a spiral of hardship. This means they cannot afford food, heating, electricity and products to maintain basic hygiene.
“These necessities of life ensure a minimum standard of living and dignity. How can children participate in education when they are cold, starving and do not have the necessary equipment?
“Last week I heard about a boy who didn’t go to school because his family couldn’t afford to buy him proper shoes. Here we are and it’s only going to get worse.”
The Ulster University lecturer criticized Stormont’s response in tackling poverty-related issues.
“By leaving the executive branch when the cost of living crisis really took hold, the DUP chose to inflict great suffering on those on the lowest incomes. It is extremely frustrating that £300m allocated by HM Treasury to deal with the unfolding crisis is being held hostage due to a lack of senior management.
“I feel like there has never been a time when we need more determined leadership than we do now. Without bold and bold policy making, the impact will be far-reaching.
“We will see that educational standards for people in poor areas continue to fall. Mental and physical health problems will become even more prevalent and our social care systems will be stretched beyond breaking point.”
Professor Tony Gallagher, Professor of Education at Queen’s University, said the link between social disadvantage and educational outcomes has been a “persistent problem” in Northern Ireland and affects young people from all communities.
“All political parties in the North have committed to an action plan to address this – but the focus is largely on the early years and its benefits will be seen over the longer term,” Professor Gallagher said.
“The Taoiseach’s focus on greater flexibility and creativity in helping young people find meaningful employment is important, and much more could be done in this area.
“Every young person deserves to graduate with the skills, qualities and qualifications that will enable them to lead full lives as citizens.
“Right now that’s not the experience of far too many young people in Northern Ireland.”
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/news/taoiseach-we-must-do-better-to-create-a-fairer-education-system-in-northern-irelands-schools-41515771.html Taoiseach: We must do more to create a fairer education system in Northern Ireland’s schools