In the good-old bad-old days the job of schools was to inculcate children into contemporary bodies of belief. While the ancient Romans were pretty good at this, it seems European colonialists and missionaries perfected it – witness the design of older schools in parts of Africa.The same was pretty much the case in Ireland until recently. The mainstream Church was hugely influential, owned many schools itself and made sure religious instruction remained firmly on the curriculum. The winds of change could be blowing strongly when the future Education Minister takes his seat after the upcoming election and attempts to preside over controversy that is at least as old as Irish Education and has no easy solution in these times.
As the Church relinquishes control over many of its primary schools the debate surrounding the extent of religious education desirable at Irish schools is already warming up. One hopeful for the post of Education Minister has already said that two-and-a-half hours spent every school day on matters of religion was excessive, particularly as pupils were scoring so poorly in literacy and math.
The Catholic Bishop of Achonry in the County of Sligo, Ireland regards the link to math and literacy as spurious. In booming voice he asks are we to exclude the things that move our hearts most deeply and form the pillars of our Irish character and culture and conscience from our schools. This is a good question given that many parents support religious instruction and those who don’t may withdraw their children from that class. The issue is complicated further by the debate concerning which religion, if any should be taught.
What makes up a perfect school curriculum is as old as education itself. The answer begs the further question, are we preparing our children for their journey throughout life or just pummeling them into good grades. Moreover what will be left of Irish schools when they stand empty of the values that sustained them for so many years?