A senior Church of Ireland figure has defended State funded faith-based schools, saying the fact that over 91.2 per cent of the population proclaims to practise a religion legitimises the current system.
The church's Dean of Waterford Maria Jansson said the situation in Ireland was "in stark contrast to the UK, and to much of Western Europe".
It was true, she said, that the 2016 census “showed that people from 180 different countries registered as non-Irish immigrants; 612,018 Irish residents spoke a foreign language at home, 30 per cent of those who spoke a foreign language at home were born in Ireland, and 57.4 per cent of these were children”.
This meant Irish society “has become pluralist, but I contend it most definitely is not post-Christian, nor is it secular. That over 90 per cent of the population claim religious affiliation gives legitimacy to the existence of faith schools, albeit working and responding to a changed and pluralist culture,” she said.
Dean Jansson was speaking at a Joint Managerial Body (JMB) Education Conference in Dublin's Croke Park on "Faith in our Schools: Creideamh – Culture – Curriculum". The JMB represents over 375 voluntary secondary schools in Ireland run in line with a religious ethos.
“If over 90 per cent of our population claims religious affiliation then that is important to the people in our society,” Dean Jansson said.
In Ireland there remained “a fundamental sense of the holy in life, people still hold a deep affection for community ties and there are often displays of openness to neighbour that can be profoundly noble”.
The “challenge and the opportunity for people of faith is not to run away from the ambiguity and confusion of our age, but delve deep and see what within our faith traditions provides a perspective, moral compass and spiritual resource for the future”.
Among “very strong reasons for educating young people in a faith context” is that it offers them a way “in which to make sense of what is going on in the world,” she said. Even for those who want no part of a faith tradition, “an educated person should be culturally literate” and “Western culture is imbued with Judaeo-Christian metaphor”.
It was the case that “faith-based education functions on an ethical premise, namely that each of us is responsible and accountable for how we act and speak”.
Increasingly, she saw “children who need that structure to help them come to terms with the maelstrom within, chaos at home or the complexities of peer relationships”. School “may be the only environment were boundaries of behaviour and attitude are established and maintained”.
And a faith-based education worked on the premise that “the individual is of intrinsic value by virtue of his or her humanity”.