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6 December 2007 Edition

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Educate that you may be free

Six-County Education Minister Caitríona Ruane

Six-County Education Minister Caitríona Ruane

TUESDAY saw a major announcement by Six-County Education Minister Caitríona Ruane in the Assembly aimed at transforming the future of education in the North – a huge challenge, given the fact that years of misrule led to a 60-year-old education system which has not adapted with the changing times.
Caitríona Ruane wants to truly transform our system into a world-class system fit for the 21st Century.
She talks exclusively to An Phoblacht’s ÉAMANN Mac MÁNAIS about her vision of an education system that provides equality of access and educational opportunity.

What do you propose for the Six Counties regarding an alternative to academic selection in our schools?
I have always been opposed to academic selection. Our Assembly election manifesto restated our opposition to academic selection and my position is that not only is academic selection unjust but it is also unnecessary. The 11-Plus exam has given us nothing but academic division and is detrimental to parents, children and teaching in our primary school classrooms. It branded the majority of our children as failures and has an adverse impact on many in terms of their sense of worth and esteem.
There are a lot of changes going on, not least of which is the serious demographic decline leading to surplus capacity in schools. I intend to use the extra capacity to create a more flexible and agile system which can deliver the education suited to the needs of all our children.
Tá sé ráite roimhe sa tionól seo go mbeinn sásta moltaí a thabhairt chun tosaigh atá dírithe ar chinntiú go mbíonn fáil cothrom ag gach páiste ar oideachas iar-bhunscolaíochta is fearr.
Tá mé ag iarraidh córas oideachas a chumadh ina mbeidh fail ag páistí uile ar réimse cothrom roghanna ardchaighdeáin ag na pointí criticúla i bhforbairt oideachasúil s’acu. Creidimid gurb é an aois, ceithre bliain déag an aois is criticrúla.
Today I announced that, after 2008, there will be no more transfer tests; election at age 14 will replace selection at 11 and there will be a period of consultation prior to bringing forward regulations to give legislative force to these changes. As I said in the chamber today, with a local Executive in place, we have an opportunity now to transform our education system into a world-class system, fit for the 21st Century.

Do you feel that the 1947 education system was in need of change? Was it outdated?
Absolutely, my special advisor, chara and former hunger striker Jackie McMullan actually mentioned to me this morning that people would not want to send their children to school in a 1947 bus so why would he want to send my children to a school based on a outdated archaic school system?
It is my intention that we will move away from the outdated 1947 education model, which has divided children into just two school types: either grammar or non-grammar. We do have academic successes to be proud of, but too many of our young people are failed by the current system.
Tá sé léirithe agam freisin, go dtabharfaidh mé chun tosaigh moltaí chun an córas oideachas a mhúnlú thart ar leasa an pháiste in áit an páiste a mhunlú thart ar leasa institiúid oideachais éigin

What has been the timescale since former Education Minister Martin McGuinness’s decision to end the 11-Plus?
Martin McGuinness made a courageous decision at a time when previous education ministers preferred to talk the talk but not walk the walk. This decision was further put into context by three factors. Firstly, the ‘Bain Review’, which recommends fewer and larger schools. Secondly, the fact that 4,000 young people leave the education system each year without the basic qualifications needed to get a job. And thirdly, the review of public administration which entails a complete overhaul of the way education in the North is administered.

What do you say to those who are opposed to change?
Sections of unionism have nothing to fear from today’s move. Those who heckled today in the chamber should be aware of one thing: our children’s future is not a party political issue.
People cannot stop change any more than holding back the tide. We are living in a multicultural and vast changing global society. Rather than try to hold back change we are about adapting and harnessing changes that will happen.

Another republican, Thomas Davis, said: “Educate that you may be free.” In this context, how do you see today’s move fitting into ‘A New Ireland of Equals’?
I see it fitting in perfectly. This is about delivering equality through education. Equality is my watchword: equality of access and equality of educational opportunity.
Tá an Dréacht Clár Rialtais soiléir sa mhéid seo i ndearbhú go mbeidh na focail ‘cothroime’ ‘cuimsiú’ agus ‘comhionannas’ mar focail ag an fheidhmeannas i solathrú polasaithe agus clár an fheidhmeannas.
This is about focusing on those young people who are failed by our education system. My vision of education is based on greater co-operation between schools in local areas and obviously it extends throughout the island of Ireland.

Do you feel republicans have fulfilled their manifesto responsibilities?
Although a challenging day [she laughs], today has been a good day. The project to provide proper and fair education to our children and to reconstruct a 60-year-old system will not be done overnight.
The Sinn Féin campaign is about delivering change. We have only travelled part of the road and there is still neart le dhéanamh (plenty to do). As I have said before, tús maith leath na hoibre! There is a role for all our activists and members to inform, discuss and analyse today’s positive move.
Sinn Féin shall continue to approach their work with the “unselfish idealism” of Michael Davitt.

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