Londonderry SDLP MLA Gerard Diver says the educational deficit currently affecting too many poorer Protestant boys is evidence of Executive failure and needs to be addressed urgently if there’s to be any long-term hope for the economy.
Mr Diver, who is the party’s Employment and Learning spokeman, was speaking to the Sentinel following a meeting with a National Union of Students (NUS) delegation at Stormont.
Mr Diver said: “I share the vision of the NUS. The SDLP default setting of course is education free to all.
“The meeting was very beneficial, both the SDLP and NUS share dismay that progress has, over the course of the last five years been slow to say the least.
“However, both organisations are hopeful that, with the support of the electorate, change will come in May.”
The Waterside-based SDLP man said underachievement among poorer Protestant boys is an issue that needs to be taken in hand with some urgency.
He said: “The SDLP and I repeated our commitment to the NUS representatives to continue to work to reduce educational inequality.
“This means directly addressing, as a priority, the educational deficit currently experienced by Protestant boys born into a low socio-economic background.
“We cannot simply continue to ignore the issue, as to do so is to lock them out of employment forever.”
Mr Diver continued: “I am happy to support and lobby with the NUS-USI.
“It is time we talked openly, honestly and strategically about the vision we have for Northern Ireland.
“Cutting £24 million from the Higher Education budget is not the way to achieve that vision.
“We cannot realise the hopes we have for a prosperous youth education and employment sector without change in May.”
The SDLP Employment and Learning spokesperson claimed the two biggest parties at Stormont have presided over a litany of failures.
He said: “Over the past five years young people have been continually let down and disenfranchised by this DUP/SF Executive.
“All our young people deserve a passport to education regardless of background or personal circumstances.
“Therefore the words of Fergal McFerran, NUS-USI President, about his organisation ‘being the driving force behind a democratic revolution’ was music to my ears.
“That is what we in the SDLP want, a fully cohesive fit for purpose, fully funded, education sector in which religious differences do not feature. “This Assembly election provides students and their parents an opportunity this region simply cannot waste. This is why I am delighted to support the NUS-NUI ‘Owning our future campaign.”