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Our children must be taught more science

The latest comparative figures on Irish primary education from the OECD do not paint a flattering picture of the way in which our youngest children are taught.

These show that Irish primary school pupils receive two-and-a-half times more instruction in religion than they do in science.

At a time when the Government is desperately trying to increase the proportion of Leaving Certificate students sitting the science and maths papers, one would have thought that primary level would be good place to start inculcating a love of, and an aptitude for, these subjects in young pupils.

Unfortunately that is not what seems to be happening. As the OECD figures show today, Irish primary school pupils receive just one hour of science teaching every week as against two-and-a-half hours of religious instruction. In certain primary classes, as teacher Neil O'Callaghan writes in our Comment section today, the disparity between science and religion is even greater.

This applies particularly to third and sixth classes where a large proportion of teaching time is devoted to preparing pupils for their first communions and confirmations respectively.

If Ireland were a truly devout country, this preference for religious over scientific instruction might have some justification.

But it isn't. As the latest research conducted on behalf of the Association of Catholic Priests shows, 56pc of all Irish Catholics now attend Sunday Mass less than once a month while only 35pc go to Mass once a week.

In urban areas, levels of religious observance are even lower with less than 10pc of all Catholic adults attending Sunday Mass in many Dublin inner-city parishes. Under such circumstances there will be those who argue that we can not justify devoting such a large proportion of primary school teaching time to religion when, as adults, most of those children are likely to infrequently see the inside of a Catholic church.

Of course it can be also be argued that the comparison between the amount of time devoted to religious as opposed to scientific instruction is an unfair one. Religion, after all, isn't the only primary school subject that most pupils will make limited use of in later life.

Irish, which consumes an even larger proportion of primary school teaching time, could be said to fall into the same category.

What is inarguable is that Irish primary school pupils don't receive sufficient teaching in science and maths.

That has got to change and soon. If we are to possess sufficient scientifically literate and numerate adults to compete successfully in the global knowledge economy, we will have to start by producing more scientifically literate and numerate children.

Irish Independent