f Humanisticus: The Catholic Church's Influence in Irish Education Needs to Change

Thursday, 20 September 2012

The Catholic Church's Influence in Irish Education Needs to Change

Historically Ireland has always been a deeply religious nation, the clergy and the Church played a prominent role in Irish affairs, much to the detriment of Ireland as we are now realising. However, due to these adverse affects of the Church's influence, Irish citizens are abandoning religion at unprecedented rate.  In fact a recent report has shown that Ireland is abandoning religion faster than almost any other nation with only 47% declaring themselves religious compared to 69% just seven years ago. This has left Ireland in a rather anomalous situation: over 90% of Irish primary schools  and  50% of secondary schools are administered by the Church. In an increasing pluralistic Ireland, this is unsustainable. Already there are reports of people having to baptise their children so they can ensure they are accepted into the local school as the Church's policy states that "The Catholic Church is committed to providing Catholic schools to cater for the needs of parents who wish their children to have a Catholic education. Therefore the children of Catholic parents have first claim on admission to Catholic schools, wherever possible, in keeping with their ethos, and providing that they have places and resources, Catholic schools welcome children of other faiths and none". Non-denominational or multi-denominational schools are rare even in big cities but especially in rural areas. This leaves non-religious parents in a particularly precarious situation as non-conformity can adversely effect their child's education.

It is also unreasonable for non-religious parents, and parents of different faiths, to pay taxes for public schools which bar their children from admission based on their faith. The Irish government has been attempting to address this but in a very unsatisfactory manner. Their response for now is to segregate children based on their religion: essentially for a religion class, Catholic children go to one side of the room and rest go to the other side. The Catholic children are taught their religious lessons while the rest, regardless of their faith, are lumped together and sit quietly while the teacher devotes his/her attention to only the Catholic children. In some extreme cases where there is only one or two children who are not Catholic, these children are forced to sit out in the corridor while the rest of the class conducts their lessons. As you can imagine these children feel ostracised and different and it leaves them vulnerable to bullying. I would not blame any parent if they baptised their child and played along to save their child from years ostracisation.

Another anomaly is the amount of time devoted to religious studies: an OECD report shows the average Irish primary school pupil spends 10% of their time on religious studies, compared to the 4% average among developed nations. This means Irish pupils spend less time on practical subjects such as math, 12% compared to the developed nation average of 18%. So 1/10 of an Irish pupil's education is either spent being indoctrinated with a religion which has screwed this country (in a metaphorical and literal sense) or spent being ignored by their teacher and sitting alone in a hallway. It is not surprising that Irish students consistently perform poorly in the sciences and math when 10% is wasted on superstition and nonsense which is not applicable to the real world. People within government know what needs to be done, public schools need to either become multi or non-denominational which cater for a pluralistic Ireland. Religion must be removed from the curriculum altogether or replaced by comparative religion. Personally I prefer the latter as it would give the students a better understanding of the world and increase inter-faith tolerance. Plus as the old adage goes, "teach a child one religion, you indoctrinate them, teach a child many religions, and you inoculate them". 

Will any of this be done? Shall the privilege the Catholic Church enjoys be ended? I am hopeful that it will. What I am not hopeful about is it happening anytime soon, if the X-case* is anything to go by it will be decades before the government makes the changes to correctly represent a modern Ireland.

*For any readers from outside Ireland, the X case was a landmark case which established the right of women to an abortion if her life was at risk, including the risk of suicide. This case came about when a 14 year old was raped by her neighbour and she became pregnant. Afterwards she was deemed a suicide risk due to her pregnancy and an abortion was permited. Alas 20 years later and our government has failed to provide legislation and women are stilled denied an abortion if their life is at risk.

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