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Written Answers. - North-South Education System.

Wednesday, 18 December 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 559 No. 6

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 128. Mr. Crowe Information on Sean Crowe Zoom on Sean Crowe  asked the Minister for Education and Science Information on Noel Dempsey Zoom on Noel Dempsey  his views on the idea of the development of an All-Ireland education system; his further views on the benefits this could bring to all the people of this island; the work his Department has done in this area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26924/02]

Minister for Education and Science (Mr. N. Dempsey): Information on Noel Dempsey Zoom on Noel Dempsey In An Agreed Programme for Government the Government determined that the overriding priority would be to secure lasting peace in Ireland through, inter alia, the development of a spirit of friendship between the North and South and in this context to work to consolidate the North-South Ministerial Council and the implementation bodies.

One of my major objectives is to contribute to the achievement of this priority through the development of North-South co-operation and common action, in our common interest, in the area of education, particularly in the context of the Good Friday Agreement.

As the Deputy will be aware, the Good Friday Agreement provides for co-operation through implementation bodies, common policies and separate implementation.

Aspects of education were identified among the areas for North-South co-operation and implementation. In a joint statement of 18 December 1998 the Northern First Minister and the Deputy First Minister agreed that the following areas should be prioritised for co-operation in education: educational under achievement; special educational needs; teacher qualifications; and school, youth and teacher exchange.

These have been the subject of ongoing discussions and conclusions within the North-South Ministerial Council education sector format, which despite the political difficulties that have emerged since the commencement of the process, has had four meetings and approved an ongoing programme of work on issues of common concern to both administrations. In addition, support for Irish medium education and the teaching of Irish is one of the specified functions of the language implementation body, An Foras Teanga.

Co-operation in education at primary, postprimary and third level is maintained across a very wide area of activity including school exchange, joint school projects, Irish language, youth exchange and information technology. There has been very wide ranging co-operation at Departmental, education professional, institutional, local education and organisational level prior to the Good Friday Agreement and on a more structured basis since under the umbrella of the NSMC. The number of projects linking teachers, schools and youth in co-operative projects in education continues to increase. In addition, initiatives to promote and enhance consultation and co-operation in education on a North-South basis within the broader context of relationships with Britain and the USA have been supported.

Specific provision has been made in measure 5.5 of PEACE II to provide funding for approved projects in support of education, cross-Border school and youth co-operation. The Departments of education North and South are jointly [1537]implementing this measure. The objective of the measure is to develop innovative projects and programmes for children, young people, teachers and youth workers, which aim to address a range of issues of common concern in local communities. Actions aimed at promoting the social inclusion of, and reconciliation and mutual understanding between, children and young people in disadvantaged communities and groups will be particularly targeted.

Departments of education North and South have also been mandated to explore the potential for further areas of co-operation in education, which might be proposed in future programmes of work. There are differences between the systems of education North and South. This diversity will have to be recognised but it equally provides an opportunity for both of our administrations to learn from our respective experiences in order to ensure the highest quality of education for all our citizens. This objective is shared within the EU context.

Co-operation in relation to the development of policy on education and training has gained considerable momentum at EU level with the approval of the EU Education Ministers, in February 2001, of a report on the future objectives of education and training systems. This was followed with approval in February of a work programme to give effect to these objectives. This co-operation between EU member states reflects the determination of the Council of Ministers and the EU Commission to provide a comprehensive response and make a contribution to the Lisbon Agenda whilst recognising the broader mission and responsibility of education and training systems to society. These co-operation developments at EU level provide a backdrop against which the North-South co-operation provided for in the Good Friday Agreement can be taken forward.

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