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Education

In: English and Literature

Submitted By ClaireKelleher
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“In many parts of the world today religious education is facing dramatic challenges.” (catholicireland.net, 2012). We live in a world where society is greatly affected by the ways and customs of different religions and cultures. The questioning of the relationship between religion and education in Ireland has been a sizeable debate recently. The increase in immigration etc. has resulted in new and diverse religions and cultures being introduced into Irish society. Naturally this means that change is imminent. When people first heard that I would be studying to become a religious education teacher their reactions were mostly what I had expected. The look on their face said it all for most people. I could tell they were thinking that religious education was not a real subject. That is was merely a subject where you could catch up on homework or sit back, relax and watch a movie. Of course my natural instinct was to defend the subject as I knew why I wanted to and was going to study to become a religious educator. However as I found myself trying to explain, it was challenging to try and find the words to define what the subject is and what it entails. It was difficult to do this without sounding like a “holy joe” as the expression goes. It made me realise that I needed to sit down and think in detail the meaning of religious education and also what I think the future of religious education in Ireland looks like? Will religious education still be a subject in Ireland in years to come? These are the questions I needed to answer in order to develop professionally and personally as a religious educator. As religious educators we need to spread the message that “RE can be inspiring, interesting and relevant” (Wright and Brandom, 2013 p13). For me RE is a subject where I will have the opportunity to inspire learners to grow and flourish as individuals and to support their holistic development.
Personally, religion has always been a part of my life. Since I was born my parents have encouraged and helped me to develop my faith. I went to mass in the Catholic Church every week and prayed daily. I gained an insight into how effective and helpful religion can be in one’s life and it now plays a major part in my life. However, the impression I got of religion when attending post-primary school was a different one altogether. Despite religious education not being an exam subject in my school we has classes allocated for religious education every week. “All schools at second level in Ireland are obliged to provide religious worship and instruction in the school” (Donnelly, 2012)
A statement which I think sums up the future of religious education is by John Hull who says that, “Religious Education is no longer to foster or nurture faith in any particular religion; it is to promote a sympathetic but critical understanding of religion”. (Brennan, 2005, p62) I think that this statement highlights and describes what religious education in Ireland is becoming. We are slowly moving away from the traditional and strict ways of the Catholic Church and moving towards a more meaningful approach to religion whilst also supporting our Christian beliefs.
I believe it is true to say that the future of religious education in post-primary schools in Ireland faces some formidable difficulties. Religion in today’s society is dismissed by many youths. They believe it is not “cool” or popular to attend religious services or to pray. In school religion is seen as a joke to most pupils and is not taken seriously. This is partly “due to the narrow understanding of the meaning and purpose of religious education.”(catholicireland.net, 2012). This is deeply unfair to the students who have a keen interest in the subject but who are too afraid to admit that they are interested in studying religious education. Parents are the primary educators of their child and a child’s education starts in the home. Although I hate to say it I believe that parents are somewhat to blame for the decline of interest in religious education in schools. Personally I believe that too many parents are under the impression that the purpose of religious education in schools is to proselytize or convince their children to follow the beliefs of one particular faith. In Ireland that being the Catholic faith.
Religion has been at the centre of education in Ireland for many years. We are taught about the basics of the catholic faith and we prepare for the sacraments of penance, Eucharist and confirmation. As children develop to the stages of adolescence they should be adept and equipped to further the exploration of their faith and deepen their knowledge of their religion. However in my opinion the approach to religious education seen in post-primary schools in Ireland does not allow students to do this. It is inevitable that changes will occur for the future of religious education in post-primary schools in Ireland. Adolescents nowadays lack a form of expressing spirituality. Disregarding religious education in schools or replacing it with other subjects, this diminishes a student’s opportunity to deepen and develop their spirituality. I think that spirituality is very important for the holistic development of an individual. Especially during the difficult and tough years of post-primary school. Religious education may give students the opportunity to discover who they are as individuals and not be afraid to express themselves.
On the professional side of this debate, as a student RE teacher I believe that the subject of religious education should be made a compulsory subject in which each student has to take part in. The topic of the relationship between religion and education in Ireland is clear to be controversial. We have many diverse religions and cultures residing in Ireland today and therefore the provision and religious education is schools may not suit everybody. Granted, the parents should have the right to decide whether their child participates in religious education class or not. However, I feel they should be informed more about the nature of the subject and its importance and benefits in today’s world. If a varied amount of religions are working together and participating in the same class then each might get the opportunity to learn about a great number of different religions, “teaching about religion will promote tolerance of, or empathy with, or respect for, other religions” (Lane, 2013, p24).
Globalisation has become a major part of our world. With the introduction of new technology and the major outburst of social media, having an association or relationship with different religions and cultures has become inescapable, “contact with different cultures and different religions is unavoidable.” (Lane, 2013, p9) In Ireland we need to come to terms with this and realise that changes are necessary for the provision of religious education in Ireland in order for there to be a healthy dialogue between religion and education.
In my opinion the future of religious education in Ireland should involve more schools becoming run by a secular structure. “In Ireland we have no secular schools” (Donnelly, 2012) It is fundamental to the future of our society and the provision of religious education in post primary schools that this is changed. This does not mean that religion would not play a role in the school, however it would allow for each and every religion to be a part of the school. “A secular school teaches children in a neutral, objective way about the different beliefs that different people have about gods, and leaves it up to parents and churches to teach specific religious beliefs outside of school hours.” (Donnelly, 2012) It is a basic human right for every individual to be treated equally and by introducing more non-denominational schools in Ireland these rights can be respected. “In 2008 the United Nations Human Rights Committee raised concern about the human rights of secular parents and their children in the Irish education system. The UN recommended that the State should open up non-denominational schools throughout the country.” (Donnelly, 2012). Currently in Ireland if a student is not of the catholic or protestant faith there is nothing done in schools for them to develop their own faith. They are excluded from religious services taking place in the school, this is not acceptable and is extremely unethical. “This is religious discrimination and it clearly breaches the human rights of minorities.”(Donnelly, 2012)
As a society we need to start realising that not only religious education but education in general is a life-long process. We do not start learning when we go to school and finish once school has ended. The view that education is something that ends after school. It is not all that long ago that education was seen as something that concluded with school, or a little later with the completion of a university qualification.” (Lane, 2013, p32) needs to end. As I mentioned previously our primary educators are our parents/guardians and our education begins in the home. Education is now slowly being seen and understood as “a life-long process of learning”. (Lane, 2012, p32)
Thomas Groome is a religious theorist who has had a profound effect on the teaching of religious education in Ireland. As I have previously mentioned there is a desperate need for non-denominational post-primary schools in Ireland. It is necessary for future generations that this proposal is followed through and that these types of schools are erected. Another solution to this problem would also be to tone down the teachings of the Catholic Church in schools. Therefore allowing inclusion of children of different faiths, religions and cultures. Teaching students about a religion that they do not belong to may impose values and perspectives which would be proselytizing. However Groome proposed the opposite, he suggested that we follow the five movements of his shared Christian praxis.
I believe that Groome`s approach to teaching through shared Christian praxis is very applicable and effective to the teaching of Religious Education in post-primary schools. He disputes that “religious education and catechesis should work in concert, mediating a curriculum that is likely both to inform and form students as people of faith.” (Groome 2002).I like this statement a great deal as I think it sums up perfectly the vision the Groome has for the future of religious education in Ireland. It is especially applicable to the probability and predictions that non-denominational schools will become a part of the future of religious education in Ireland.
As we look to the future of religious education in Ireland and its relationship in post-primary schools we need to look understand it as a form of dialogue. Dialogue is essential in the being and formation of an individual. “Dialogue initiates a process of self-awareness and self-understanding, and dialogue is likewise the way in which that awareness and understanding is deepened.”(Lane, 2013, p32). It is important to realise that without dialogue and communication in the subject of religious education it would be near impossible to express our beliefs and faith.
To conclude I believe and hope that religious education in Ireland will have a bright and successful future. It is a subject necessary for the comprehensive development of an individual and therefore I believe that it does and will play a big role in the curriculum for Irish post-primary schools in the future. My hope is that it will develop into a subject that is directed towards the development of faith, whatever an individual’s religion or culture may be.

Bibliography

Barnes, L.P., Wright, A. and Brandom, A.M. eds., 2013. Learning to Teach Religious Education in the Secondary School: A Companion to School Experience. Routledge.
Brennan, O., (2005). Critical issues in religious education. Veritas Co. Ltd..
Donnelly, J. (2012) Column: Religion should be taken out of schools. Leave it at home. [thejournal.ie] <http://www.thejournal.ie/readme/column-religion-should-be-taken-out-of-schools-leave-it-at-home.>
Groome, T.H. (2002). Religious Education and Catechesis: No Divorce, for the Children's Sake. The Furrow, 53(11), pp.587-596.
Lane D. (2013). Religion and Education: Reimagining the Relationship, Dublin: Veritas

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