Education System Must Offer Choice and Balance

pressetEducate Together welcomes and encourages the current debate on the role of religion in Irish primary education and on the shape of our education system into the future.

Constitutional rights and twenty-first century social trends demand that all families in Ireland have a choice between a school that is denominational or ‘faith-based’ and a school that provides legal guarantees of equality as is afforded in the Educate Together school sector.

Since 1978 Educate Together has developed a well-tested alternative to the denominational model of primary school in Ireland. The core legal principle of this alternative is to respect all children equally regardless of social, cultural or religious backgrounds.

During the school day, Educate Together schools teach an ethical education curriculum entitled Learn Together. This curriculum is divided into four strands – ‘Moral and Spiritual Development’; ‘Equality and Justice’; ‘Belief Systems’; Ethics and the Environment.’ This curriculum defines the values and ethos of the school. Its aim is to educate children to be active and moral citizens, knowledgeable about their rights and responsibilities in an exciting and diverse world.

Religious Instruction is a parent-organised, extra-curricular, optional activity in Educate Together schools. The responsibility for religious formation is clearly placed with the family and their religious organisation, while the school’s obligation is to provide an atmosphere which respects and support that choice.

The Educate Together model thus provides an educational space of equality and respect that is built on a firm legal foundation. Educate Together schools offer full equal access to all children irrespective of social, cultural or religious backgrounds. Families of all religious and non-religious backgrounds have security and equality in these arrangements and find in them a vibrant and healthy environment for their children. They mirror the social spaces of equality and respect that will be key for the future health and prosperity of our communities, country and world.

Educate Together believes that there is an overwhelming case for Government to support the planned development of a national network of schools offering this multi-denominational ethos. At present, denominational schools comprise the majority of the education system, with just over one percent of all primary schools being multi-denominational. In our rapidly diversifying society, in which religious choices are becoming more individual and varied, and in which we are welcoming many families of different cultural backgrounds, it is essential that we have a more balanced education system that that can provide for the educational choices of all families.