Minister’s call to cut back religion for maths doesn’t really add up

Opinion: Schools in North excel despite same time given to RE as in the Republic

Sun, Feb 2, 2014, 12:02

When Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn makes comments regarding cutting religious education (RE) time in order to teach more maths, it might seem to be only a matter of concern for parents for whom religion is an important matter.

If, however, it illustrates the Minister for Education’s understanding of the educational process, it becomes a much wider issue.

An integrated curriculum is central to the approach in primary schools – that is, subjects do not reside in isolated boxes, but instead meaningful connections are made between them.

The primary school curriculum states: “As they mature, integration gives children’s learning a broader and richer perspective, emphasises the interconnectedness of knowledge and ideas and reinforces the learning process.”

In a number of recent curriculum reviews, good practice such as using Gaeilge during PE is praised. It does not seem to have occurred to the Minister that literacy could be enhanced during RE, or that art or music can be very easily integrated into RE time.

He expresses great unease that more time is given to RE during years of sacramental preparation. Would similar unease be expressed if pupils were preparing for a school play or for an important final?

These are times of communal celebration that are remembered long after individual lessons have faded into a blur. All of them strengthen links with the community.

I am a second-level teacher, but primary teachers tell me that one of the lovely things about preparing children for sacraments is how grateful and appreciative parents are for the hard work that goes into preparing beautiful, meaningful celebrations.

This is not the first time the Minister has singled out religious education. He talks about time for religious education being above the European average. True. What he does not mention is that exactly the same allocation of time for RE happens in Northern Ireland’s primary schools.

Northern Ireland

The late Seán Flynn, a skilled and dedicated journalist whose death after an illness courageously borne has caused great grief to family, friends and colleagues, wrote about Northern Ireland becoming the new Finland.

He said: “For years we have looked north to Finland for education’s promised land. But the latest international rankings for primary schools suggest the promised land may actually be up the road.

“Northern Ireland is among the elite performers in both reading and maths, where it significantly outperformed the Republic.”

In a recent international survey, (TIMSS/PIRLS for primary schools), in both literacy and numeracy, Northern Ireland comes first in Europe in maths and second in primary reading.

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