Teaching religion and the time factor
Let’s be clear about this – Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn never said religion should be excluded from the curriculum of national schools. That is guaranteed under law. He has, however, questioned the amount of time devoted to religious instruction and preparation for sacraments while students perform badly in literacy, science and maths.
Arising from complaints from teachers last week that they were unable to cover an overloaded curriculum, Mr Quinn suggested time might be taken from religious instruction and noted that, in other countries, preparation for the sacraments was dealt with at parish level. His comment was treated like something of a floodgate-opening event. The Association of Catholic Priests accused him of undermining religion while Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin said many people believed he was against Catholic education.
As Minister, Mr Quinn has a duty to ensure young people are equipped for life. The curriculum introduced by Mr Martin while he was minister for education in 1999 identified literacy and numeracy as key concerns. In practice, the limit is often exceeded. That curriculum set aside two hours a week for religious instruction. A survey conducted by the INTO found some of its members devoted nine hours of a twenty-two hour teaching week in preparing children for first communion and confirmation. An OECD report in 2011 recorded that – if the formal timetable was followed – Irish children would receive twice as much religious education and half as much science instruction as their peers in other developed countries.
The amount of time devoted to religious instruction is important on many levels. But the near-total domination of primary education in a multi-denominational and multicultural society remains the primary issue. The programme for government undertook to cater for all religions and none. Mr Quinn spoke of reducing Catholic Church control from 90 per cent to 45 per cent by this year though no school has changed hands.