Katherine Donnelly: Religious teaching that reflects our diverse society can only help to enrich our children
FOR generations of Irish children educated in Catholic Irish primary schools, religious education was rooted exclusively in the traditions, beliefs and practices of that church. Anything else was pretty ignored or dismissed.
So typically, nine in 10 pupils leaving primary education – as historically the Catholic Church has controlled more than 90pc of schools – had little or no knowledge or understanding of other beliefs.
Hardly religious education, in its broadest sense.
The arrival of religious education as an optional Junior Cert subject in 2000 introduced the first formal teaching about world religions and faiths to young students.
The dominance of the Catholic Church in the primary system allowed education about religion to overlap with faith formation, the more formal instruction involved in preparing pupils for First Communion and Confirmation.
But closing young Catholic-educated ears to the many shades of religious beliefs that they will encounter through their lives does nothing to nurture understanding and respect for others.
The proposed new programme for Catholic schools will sit much more easily than current practice, with the Education in Religion and Beliefs (ERB) and ethics curriculum for all children, in all schools.
The new ERB curriculum was one of the key recommendations of the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector, and the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment is working on proposals.
Changes in Irish society – not least the arrival of migrants from a variety of different cultures and traditions – has brought greater urgency to the need to educate children about the rich tapestry of life, religious and otherwise.
There are great efforts being made in Catholic schools to reflect the increasing diversity of their pupils, with celebrations to mark many festivals such as Diwali.
Taking the time to teach all pupils about other religions will only enrich that.