Tuesday 24 October 2017

Tensions arise over multi-faith religion classes

Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Tensions have arisen over how religion is taught in the new state-run community primary schools in west Dublin.

The schools are models for a new type of educational provision to cater for the changing face of Ireland, and three more are due to open in September.

They have attracted pupils from a broad cultural and religious mix, reflecting the make-up of the rapidly developing communities in which they are based.

But there are concerns about the delivery of the religious programme to pupils from a range of backgrounds, including Catholic, Orthodox Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and non-religious families.

So far the schools -- Scoil Choilm in Clonsilla and Scoil Ghrainne in Phibblestown -- are teaching only junior infants, senior infants and first class.

Operating under the auspices of County Dublin Vocational Education Committee (CDVEC), they are piloting a multi-belief religious curriculum, which is being overseen by an advisory body representing different faiths and educational interests.

Children are taught a common and general ethical programme together and at the end of the class are broken into two broad groups -- one of faiths believing in one God, such as Catholics and one for faiths believing in more than one God, such as Hindus -- to round off the lesson with faith-specific education.

For a period of three or four weeks a year, children may be separated out of the class for faith instruction, such as preparation for Holy Communion.

The multi-denominational body Educate Together, which is represented on the advisory group, and which is opposed to any faith formation classes being held within schools hours, says the system that is being developed won't work .

A spokesperson said it required the registration, labelling and separation of children according to religious identity, and raised legal issues in relation to equality and religious discrimination.

The Humanist Association of Ireland (HAI), which is also represented on the group, has also expressed reservations.

HAI chair Dick Spicer, who is a member of the advisory group, warned of potential problems because of the lack of legal guarantees for children who did not want any religious instruction and were kept in a room where it was being given.

The Irish National Teachers' Organisation said the issue of teaching religion needs to be addressed in an open and transparent way.

CDVEC chief Marie Griffin said: "This is an evolving and consultative process."

Irish Independent

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