200 primary schools 'enough for non-religious parents'
Around 200 schools of the existing 3,300 primary schools would serve the needs of parents who want a non-religious education for their children, according to the Secretary of the Church of Ireland Board of Education, Dr Ken Fennelly.
Dr Fennelly said figures he received from the Central Statistics Office indicated that 27,238 parents with a child of between five and 12 were “expressly no religion”, which equated to the number of Protestant children in the same age-bracket in the country.
He said that “given that the two sets of figures are comparable, and that fewer than 200 schools is enough to serve the Protestant minority then it would not be, in my estimation, too much of a leap to say that the same number would serve non-religious parents.
Meanwhile, speaking at the same event organised by the pro-religion, Iona Institute Professor Eamonn Conway of Mary Immaculate teacher training college, Limerick, described as “bizarre” proposals to teach a compulsory world religions course in primary schools, including faith-based schools, called ‘Education about Religions and Beliefs’ (ERB).
The National for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) is at an advanced stage of preparation on the proposed new ERB programme, but Prof Conway said its introduction in faith-based schools would “undoubtedly adversely affect” religious instruction and a school’s characteristic ethos. He said the issue needed careful and urgent attention”. He said that the main responsibility for providing non-religious schools for those who wanted them lay with the State, not the Churches.
Meanwhile, sociologists in Trinity College Dublin say religious education in Irish primary schools should not promote any particular religion over others.
Growing secularisation of the Irish population and the arrival of new culturally and religiously diverse migrants are posing new challenges, particularly in primary schools under Catholic patronage, a research paper states
Religious education should also include the study of non-religious worldviews such as Humanism, states the paper, which has been published in the British Journal of Religious Education.
The paper points to how Ireland has developed into a multi-ethnic, multi-faith society, one that required a more pluralistic approach to religious education and one that would enable students to think critically about religions and to be able to discuss religious and ethical matters in an informed way.
Associate Professor, Daniel Faas, Head of the Department of Sociology at Trinity, who co-authored the paper, said it was imperative that Ireland continued to strengthen a non-discriminatory perspective in education and promote religious pluralism.
He said there were some encouraging recent developments, including diversification of the primary school sector, although progress was slow in relation to divestment of denominational schools to other patrons.
Prof Faas said issues remained in some rural areas where there were not enough pupils to justify establishing different types of schools and, in In these cases, inclusive practices that went beyond admission policy and acknowledging cultural and religious difference may be a way forward.
“Schools could also collaborate more closely with Churches and parents to provide religious instruction outside school hours”, he said.
He said that rather than a challenge, religious and moral education, as opposed to indoctrination, should be seen as an opportunity to help younger people to understand and respect the increasingly diverse world and communities around them without compromising their own sense of self and their identity.
As well as Prof Faas, co-authors of paper were Beata Sokolowska, Dr Merike Darmody.