Religious education to reflect pluralism demanded

 

The new president of the INTO, Mr Seán Rowley, has questioned how teachers can teach, as truth, doctrine which is accepted as truth by only one religious denomination.

With the support of delegates, he called for a new programme of religious education in schools. "What better way to deepen religious conviction than to understand and respect other traditions?" he asked.

Mr Rowley called for a programme of religious education in schools that would recognise the plurality of Christian religious faiths, as well as non-Christian faiths and beliefs.

Delegates voted to enter discussions with the NCCA (National Council for Curriculum and Assessment) to this purpose.

Primary teachers want to pull their pupils out of the "squinting-windows" mentality by creating an entirely new way of teaching religion, said Mr Fintan Cronin, a teacher in Wicklow. He urged his INTO colleagues to "embrace a more modern, pluralist Ireland" by agreeing on a motion to consult the NCCA about developing a programme for primary pupils that would reflect the diversity of religious belief in Irish society.

The INTO also voted yesterday to demand the establishment of a "proper representative forum" to address the challenges and difficulties faced by teachers in interdenominational schools.

The general secretary, Mr John Carr, described as "scandalous" the lack of an agreed understanding on how religion should be taught in interdenominational schools, and demanded a clear policy before any more interdenominational schools are sanctioned.

A passionate debate on the subject enlivened the hall on the third day of the conference. It showed that, a year after the controversy over the teaching of religion in the interdenominational Gaelscoil Thulach na nÓg in Co Meath, the issue continues to annoy primary teachers.

"I reject totally the idea that a vague and woolly but no doubt well-intentioned notion of bringing children together for religious education constitutes any form of interdenominational education," Mr Carr said.

Mr Tomás Ó Dúlaing, former principal of the gaelscoil and now the principal of Grifeen Valley School, a multidenominational school in Lucan, Co Dublin, told delegates "the idea that teachers can be intimidated into compromising our relationships with children of religious minorities is flawed". Six- and seven-year-old Protestant children were experiencing "devastation and hurt in classrooms as the result of the imposition of directives on religion", he claimed.

It was wrong that non-Catholic children either had to sit through preparation classes for First Holy Communion, or be withdrawn from class by their parents.

Children of minority religions were being marginalised, he added. One of the great tragedies in interdenominational schools to date was an unwillingness by the powers that be to seek out consensus, and instead to seek to impose, to intimidate and to sanction.

He then described as a "dying species" people who continued to push the idea of the teaching of Catholicism to all children in interdenominational schools.

Mr Carr commented: "We've come a long way when we can openly discuss religion without fear of the church."

Proposing the motion, Ms Joan Ward, former president of the INTO, presented the results of an INTO survey showing that three-quarters of primary schools had children of mixed faiths.

Irish people, who were nominally Catholic, had become à la carte in their approach to Catholicism and no longer looked to the church for guidance on matters of civil law. Some children needed tours of churches before First Communion because they had never stepped inside a church before.

Some teachers were frustrated preparing their pupils for two performances a year: First Communion and the Christmas play, she added.

Ms Ward quoted a teacher as stating: "Preparing children for the sacraments is a sham."

Another teacher said she was fighting a losing battle and expressed shock that, when preparing her class for Confirmation recently, she learned one-third of the pupils had not been to Confession since making their first Confession in school.

The INTO also reiterated its opposition to discrimination in employment on the basis of religion.

While no case of a teacher being hired or fired on the basis of religious belief has arisen recently, the INTO still sees the potential for such action.

Mr Cronin said: "It is unacceptable that religious discrimination is still allowed by law in our schools. The idea that someone can lose his or her job because he or she holds beliefs contrary to the ethos of a school is abominable."