Tony Blair said very little of substance during his leadership of the Labour Party- but when he uttered the words “education, education, education”, he was absolutely correct.
Countless academic reports have studied the educational underachievement of young Protestants, especially young Protestant boys.
I attended school at Bangor Academy secondary school. It was, and is, a fantastic school. There is a wonderful mix of teachers with fresh ideas and approaches to the broadly defined term of ‘education’.
I focus on Bangor Academy as an example because firstly it is the school I attended-therefore have some intimate knowledge of- and secondly because it is situated within my local community.
The school recognises that education is defined far more broadly than the somewhat narrow, and traditional, academic definition. This is important because it provides opportunities for young people to explore all of their talents- whether that be academic, sporting or other.
Situated within the home town of the DUP Education Minister, Bangor Academy should be held up as an example of a school trying to provide modern education and ensuring that the benefits of education are promoted within the community.
It is by such positive promotion of education that real change can come about. Quite often there is a resistance to education within working class Protestant communities. The reason for this could be debated until kingdom come, but it is widely accepted that there is some form of invisible barrier that makes young Protestants believe that education isn’t something that should factor high on the priority list.
That is why it is essential that schools such as Bangor Academy, and others similar, reach out into the community and ensure the message that education is positive, is spread far beyond the school walls.
When looking at secondary schools it is important the education authorities realise that some of their most positive results may not come in exam papers, but rather in slowly changing attitudes towards education within the wider communities from which many of their pupils come.
Education is cool. Education is important and most importantly it provides the tools that you require to promote real change and improve yourself.
I am not an expert on education, but I do know one thing; once you change your attitude towards education it can unlock intellectual potential that otherwise would have remained hidden behind the invisible barrier that many young Protestants believe is saying; “you are not good enough”. The fact is such an invisible barrier doesn’t exist in reality, it is a social barrier that is effective in reducing potential because more often than not young people chose to believe the myth.
It’s time for young Protestants- or anyone else feeling educational isolation- to embrace education. It is time to realise that drinking until you fall over, taking drugs or engaging in anti-social behaviour isn’t positive or a measure of social standing.
What is positive is educating yourself, empowering your community and leading real change in whatever chosen profession or field you decide to engage in.