Gerard Walton examines education policy in Northern Ireland.
Five years into Northern Ireland’s latest period of devolution, developing the next generation of young people is becoming a key political priority.
Diane Dodds MEP, speaking to a group of journalism students in Brussels, outlined the need for school leavers to ‘become stakeholders in our society’.
Recently a firm of business advisers (PwC) claimed that the youth unemployment bill had reached the substantial figure of £20m per week.
Without doubt such a figure is unsustainable in today’s economic climate, but the EU is ready to lend a helping hand to get Northern Ireland’s young people back into work.
The President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, recently announced a task Force for Northern Ireland as the Commission prepares its funding and policy programmes for 2014-20.
Eight EU member states, such as Spain, Italy and Slovakia are also set to benefit from similar taskforces as unspent funds from within the Commission are directed towards employment programmes across the EU.
Success in schools is one way of delivering higher employment rates and Diane Dodds, the DUP representative for Northern Ireland said:
“We need to look at the bottom tier of young people. Some don’t even have an attendance certificate.”
Having previously spent time as a teacher, and relying on a strong Shankhill Road support during local elections, Diane Dodds believes early intervention and integration between youths from different social and religious backgrounds are important in the fight against the ‘systemic problems’ that Northern Ireland is faced with.
She claimed: “If you don’t get through to a child before the age of seven it is too late. Problems with reading and speech need to be dealt with early. We also need integrated services in primary schools.”
Undoubtedly these words will strike a chord with many parents in Northern Ireland. Dodds will be hoping that action taken at local levels in conjunction with the EU taskforce will go a long way to helping Northern Ireland take a few more huge leaps into the peaceful and progressive society its citizens long for.