Parents to get involved in religious education - as Pope visit approaches
Parents will be asked to get more involved in their children's education as Catholic bishops take a stronger line on the teaching of religion in primary schools.
And church leaders hope the announcement the next World Meeting of Families will be held in Dublin in 2018 - with a likely visit from Pope Francis - will help to renew family commitment to religious educa- tion.
The church is urging parents to engage with their children in weekly homework that pupils will bring from school, under a new programme published yesterday.
However, families can opt out of receiving the homework page if they are not of the Catholic faith.
For the first time in the history of primary religious education, the bishops have published a structured curriculum for schools to observe.
The new curriculum also brings - for the first time in Catholic primary schools - the allocation of time to learn about other faiths during religion classes.
From first class onwards, pupils will have classes in inter-religious education, starting with two-and-a-half hours over the year. The time allocation will increase as they move up through senior classes.
The Catholic Preschool and Primary School Curriculum for Ireland (2015) will be rolled out in all Catholic primary schools on the island over the next four years.
Alongside that, a new religious education programme called Grow In Love has also been published to guide teachers in their approach to delivering the curriculum.
The Grow In Love syllabus, the introduction of which started with junior and senior infant classes this month, is more specific about teaching Catholicism from the first days in school than the previous Alive O series.
The Grow In Love textbooks are designed to be used both in school and at home. Each week, families are asked to help their children to do something related to Grow In Love for homework.
In the face of moves, albeit slow, to increase diversity of patrons at primary level, the new approach to religious education by the bishops marks a determination to ensure that their schools deliver an education grounded in Catholic principles.
Bishop of Limerick and chair of the Council for Catechetics of the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference, Dr Brendan Leahy, delivered a challenge to parents to parents to engage.
"We cannot outsource education in Christian faith to teachers alone. Family involvement is crucial," he said.
He added the "homework" element of the programme provided opportunities for parents to review and chat with their children about the themes that have been covered "and continue what was done in school".
Dr Leahy continued: "Archbishop Eamon Martin said at the National Eucharistic Congress: 'A school catechetical programme alone, no matter how rigorous, will not secure the handing on of the faith. It will succeed only insofar as it builds upon the lived faith experience of the young people in their homes and family'.
"Children have a right to be helped to articulate the religious sense they feel deep within them."
Dr Leahy said that the announcement that the next World Meeting of Families will be held in Dublin in 2018 - with a likely visit from the Pope - should help renew family commitment to religious educa- tion.
A spokesperson for the Dublin Archdiocese said it was not speculating about the possibility of a papal visit. But Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin told RTÉ that Pope Francis "has a great liking for Ireland and he has a concern for Ireland".
He added: "I think he just sees this as coming to Ireland but with a good build-up to it rather than just arriving with a few weeks' notice."