Religious evangelisation and education
Sir, – The commitment to establish a Citizens’ Assembly on the future of education at primary and secondary level is welcome (“Programme for government: ‘Future of education’ assembly to be set up”, News, June 15th).
However, while a number of positive initiatives are being promised to review and modernise teacher training, relationships and sexuality education (RSE) and social, personal and health education (SPHE) curriculums, and primary and post-primary curriculums more generally, the programme for government appears reluctant to address the area in most pressing need of reform – church control of the school day.
Almost every school in the country spends countless hours every year teaching religious faith formation, religious worship and sacramental preparation during core school hours. Growing numbers of children from non-religious and minority-religion families are exercising their constitutional right to opt out of this unwanted instruction. In short, we are spending taxpayers’ money on religious indoctrination that is often unwelcome, while curtailing the school curriculum in the process. This makes no sense either from an educational, financial, or human-rights perspective.
Only 43 per cent of Irish marriages were celebrated in a Catholic ceremony in 2019, while 41 per cent were celebrated in a non-religious ceremony. The equivalent figures in 1990 were 93 per cent and less than 4 per cent, respectively. Ireland is undergoing a tectonic cultural shift with respect to religion, but the apparatus of the State appears largely numb to the tremors.
The programme for government repeats the ambition to have 400 multidenominational primary schools by 2030. In the unlikely event that this target is reached, it would still represent only 12 per cent of all schools. By then secular marriages look set to outnumber Catholic marriages by more than three to one.
The piecemeal transfer of patronage is simply not a long-term solution to this problem – religious evangelisation must be decoupled from our education system altogether.
The idea of a Citizens’ Assembly on the future of education may have potential, but it is imperative that it be given a sufficiently broad frame of reference to examine the architecture of our education system and not just the plumbing. Without such a scope, the process will lose the confidence of parents before it even begins, while condemning growing generations of opted-out children to twiddle their thumbs at the back of the classroom. – Yours, etc,