Religion and religious beliefs have been around for a very long time and, like it or not, will survive for a long time more. The fact that we live in a Catholic country where 84% of people proclaim to be Catholics is testament that people want to belong in some faith system. Recently our Minister for Education, Mr Rory Quinn, has said that religious teaching should not take place in classrooms and should no longer be the responsibility of schools. He says that school time should be about maths, reading and writing and that teachers should be left with the professional business of “educating” children within our schools.
Making a statement saying that knowledge about religion is irrelevant to how we educate our children is short-sighted and stunted. To deny the next generation the opportunity of accessing knowledge and make up their own minds in an educated way is to deny the reality that we all need our spiritual life to be nurtured. Some may disagree with the teachings and stance the Catholic Church takes, demanding a more compassionate attitude to those who are excluded by church teachings. All humans have a spiritual side that they want to explore. If we decide to remove religion in its many forms from the school curriculum we are denying that we are more than just flesh and ashes. Our Minister for Education is trying to compress the human child to a physical entity to be prepared for the economic world at the expense of all the other factors that make up a human being. Just like the educational system is devoid of emotional intelligence, so too the effort here is to impoverish the child’s spiritual self. Like every subject, religious teaching provides an understanding and knowledge that goes beyond that which can be learned from books. It should continue to be taught the same way as History or Geography. It has the same importance and maybe more so, as it is a subject that will arise over and over again in our lives.
Religious education promotes respect for human life and as children grow older it covers ethics, philosophy and morals. If these values are not essential and important , what are?. What would we put in place of religious teaching that would help our young people to understand what life is about and to look at how we treat our fellow human beings. Integrity, ethics, honesty, and respect are all aspects of living and should be the basis of every learning process. They have longer lasting effects on our happiness and how we live our life than any other subject taught. Multi denominational schools teach morality instead of religion but this is just nit-picking as Catholic and Christian schools teach the same principles for how to live life in a decent and honourable way. Simple principles like humility and respect for another that are taught in religion classes, if removed, leave children with no tuition on the basics that create social conscience that all of society is urgently in need of.
Secularism, global influences and laws made by the European Union that cover human rights all impact on our educational system. 98% of schools in Ireland are termed denominational schools and are run by religious denominations. The Constitution deprives the State of full control of education but the State, as guardian of the common good as in Article 42.3.2, is required to ensure that children receive a minimum education, moral, intellectual and social as part of the State curriculum.
The current Minister for Education has questioned the time spent on the preparation of children for Sacraments. He claims that the severe decline in literacy levels in our schools as is evidenced in the recent OECD and PISA league was as a result of religious education and the time given to it in an overloaded curriculum. Where is the evidence for this? John Bruton, former Taoiseach rejected that notion out-of-hand as only 30 minutes a day is given to Religion classes. and has not increased since the last tests took place.
Religious Education is a compulsory subject in England and schools there are required to teach programmes that are in accordance with local and national guidelines. So why are we trying to get rid of teaching religion? Does the Minister want to reverse an accepted fact that religion must have a place in our schools and if so for what reason?
70% of the worlds population follow some kind of religion. Beliefs in any religion enhance and harnesses the goodness in every human person. Religion reinforces qualities of love, friendship, care and compassion for the common good. It keeps society stable, keeps us all in check and brings solace and comfort, as can be seen daily during sickness, deaths and times of trouble. It provides strength during tough times, gives conviction and motivation and personal fulfilment. Reducing or abolishing the teaching of religion and taking it away from core education will have a detrimental impact on the religious education that our children need and are entitled to. It will not improve society now or in the future. People all over the world, whatever their religion, say that their beliefs give meaning to life and gives them a reason to carry on living. So why would anyone in a leadership role deprive the children of the future and the adults of tomorrow of the tools to live lives that are fruitful, meaningful, happy and with a Higher Power to cling to in times of adversity. We need to be careful of changing what works, even if it is not perfect.