New primary curriculum framework does not address rights of nonreligious families

There is an Article in the Irish Times today “Primary schools to teach foreign languages as religion time cut under new proposals” by Carl O’Brien regarding a new Framework for the Primary school curriculum. It is to be published in 2023 by Minister Norma Foley. As usual this document addresses the desires of the Catholic Bishops not the rights of parents and particularly non religious and minority faith parents.

According to the Article in the Times one of the key changes in the new curriculum is that the time spent teaching religion is to be cut from two and a half hours to two hours.

In addition “religion would be supported by a new curriculum on religion, ethical and multi-belief education”, to give pupils a wider perspective on beliefs.

It seems unlikely that a new course on religion, ethical and multi-belief education could be given a separate two hours per week in a very busy curriculum.

What seems more likely is that the course will be taught in the majority of schools alongside Catholic religious instruction and faith formation.

In the past when the Department of Education tried to introduce a new course on Religion, beliefs and ethics which was a proposal from the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism, it was scrapped because the Catholic Bishops objected to objective education about religions, beliefs and ethics. They said that it went against the Catholic philosophy on education.

We don’t believe that this has changed as it is highly unlikely that the Church has privately changed its philosophy of education. The Catholic Church will not permit any objective course about religions and beliefs in their schools if they can’t teach it according to their philosophy on Catholic education.

At second level Catholic faith formation is taught alongside curriculum Religious Education. Parents are not informed that this is happening and like at primary level students are just enrolled into the course.

When parents try to exercise their right to not attend they are informed by church and state that the NCCA Religious Education course is suitable for all religions and those with no religion and that the course is not religious instruction.

Under Article 44.2.4 of the Irish Constitution students have a right to not attend religious instruction. Catholic Guidelines now claim that NCCA Religious Education is not religious instruction under Article 44.2.4 but religious education and suitable for all students.

Catholic Guidelines state that:-

“In terms of the school’s arrangements for the rights of parents/guardians and students over 18 years to withdraw from participation in religious instruction, it needs to be clearly stated that Catholic schools teaching the NCCA curricula are not offering religious instruction”

We will wait to see what this new curriculum framework brings but if the Minister and the NCCA can ignore the Constitutional rights of minorities at second level then they will have no issue with ignoring them at primary level.



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