Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Educated discourse unlikely with the minister in charge

On Open Unionism O’Neill offers an excellent post on education in Northern Ireland. He argues that debate has become fixated upon the selection question to the exclusion of broader issues.

It is hard to disagree with his thesis that an education system’s primary objective must be to help every child reach his or her potential. O’Neill believes we must be more open-minded as to the means by which this can be achieved.

I cannot approach the level of specialist knowledge which O’Neill brings to this topic, although I wonder if the system in Finland (to cite his own example), where there is a small gap between the top achievers and those at the bottom, fosters excellence amongst the most academic children, or exhausts its resources targeting the mean?

Doubtless, as O’Neill contends, there is a balance to be struck. Clearly, striving to raise levels of attainment at the lower end of the ability range is a noble aim. Whether it is worth some sacrifice at a higher echelon, or whether that trade off is avoidable, are questions which deserve prolonged discussion.

O’Neill does not think that the political debate in Northern Ireland around education has been conducted at the level which is required. I would tend to agree. And the appalling performance of the minister suggests that more constructive discourse cannot be expected in the foreseeable future.

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