Education and parental choice
Sir, – Jim Stack (Letters, June 25th) believes that parents should be able to choose between a school that promotes their own religious faith throughout the school day and one that is secular.
Such an approach to education is deeply flawed in principle and unworkable in practice. There are compelling reasons to move religious instruction to the end of the school day on an opt-in basis in all taxpayer-funded schools, as Education Equality proposes.
It is impossible for the State to provide a school for every belief in every corner of the country, or even to provide faith-based schools according to their relative representation within the population. To seek to do so would condemn the Department of Education to chasing a series of ever-moving targets in response to the latest demographic changes.
According to the 2016 Census, Ireland has 126,400 members of the Church of Ireland, 63,400 Muslims and 14,300 Hindus. Given that we have 174 Church of Ireland schools, one might reasonably expect a proportionate provision for Muslims and Hindus, with around 87 and 20 schools, respectively. In fact, we have only two Muslim schools and no Hindu schools whatsoever. This is not to mention the 468,400 citizens of no religion who outnumber all minority faith groups combined and should, in theory, have 644 schools to choose from. The CSO’s Pilot Analysis for Census 2021 suggests that this group is set to grow further next year. There are only around 130 multidenominational schools at present.
The “school choice” approach that Mr Stack envisages will only ever be a reality for certain belief groups in certain areas. It will inevitably lead to the continued religious segregation of children within classrooms, as well as the evangelisation of children against their parents’ beliefs and lawful preference.
This breaches the human rights of the families affected and contravenes Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution, which refers to “the right of any child to attend a school receiving public money without attending religious instruction at that school”.
Moving the religious instruction to which the Constitution refers to the end of the school day would empower parents to exercise their rights, without denying these classes to those who want them.
Until this happens, our education system will continue to be based on coercion rather than consent. – Yours, etc,