In the new Junior Cycle Framework, Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) is to be downgraded from a mandatory State-examinable subject to a short course delivered at the discretion of schools.
It is the only subject that explicitly promotes human rights and fosters in every young person the importance of being active citizens.
CSPE empowers young people to be active caring citizens. It should be available to all young people and it is not clear how downgrading it to a non-compulsory short course can achieve this.
The Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) has a statutory function to monitor Ireland's compliance with its international human rights standards. One of those standards is the provision of education that strengthens respect for human rights set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and other treaties.
CSPE is the most explicit form of human-rights education in the whole curriculum. If Ireland proceeds to downgrade this subject, it must be in a position to clearly demonstrate how it proposes to adequately meet its human rights obligations set out above.
We welcome the flexibility introduced in the new Junior Cycle Framework, particularly the introduction of portfolio assessment and the efforts to integrate human rights and equality principles across the curriculum. Such efforts should complement and strengthen CSPE, not replace it.
What is exciting and innovative about CSPE is its creative approach to fostering a spirit of active citizenship in students' lives through the empowering Action Project component. There are shortcomings in its implementation but these can be addressed. Young people themselves, when they were formally consulted on the new Junior Cycle Framework, concurred that reform was needed but they believed it should remain compulsory.
CSPE is a vital space for teachers and students to explore contemporary issues in Irish society within a human rights framework including cultural and religious diversity, sexual orientation, poverty and global interdependence. It is a space where prejudice, racism, and bullying can be tackled by giving students the know-how to defend their own and others' human rights.
CSPE raises the level of political and social literacy among students, fostering in them the potential to engage actively in democratic society. In this, CSPE is an important foundation for the new and much anticipated Senior Cycle subject 'Politics and Society'.
In the 2009 International Civic and Citizenship Report of 14-year-olds across 38 countries, Ireland ranked seventh, due, in no small part, to CSPE being a compulsory and State-examinable subject.
The Government must not be seen as retreating from its commitment to education that strengthens respect for human rights. It is time to reconsider this proposal.
Des Hogan is acting chief executive of the Irish Human Rights Commission