Time to abandon Irish and religious education

Today’s Irish Times editorial reflects on the serious decline in standards in the Irish education system. Irish pupils reading, maths and science scores have dropped sharply in the last 10 years to the point where they are at or below average. A not-so-subtle undertone is that our levels before 2000 were artificially higher than other OECD countries because of an essentially mono-cultural classroom.

In the last few years, several sacred cows of Irish society have been challenged – everything from the excessive expenditure at FAS right down to giving cars to former Taoisigh and civil servants half an hour to cash an electronic cheque. This is all done, in the great phrase of the 1980’s, in the national interest, which allows change to be pushed through for the greater good. In the week of teacher conferences, I would argue that something to seize upon in the current reconfiguring of our society is to abandon the concept of teaching Irish and religion in our education system.

The teaching of Irish and religion is an enormously expensive exercise, in terms of money, but more importantly in terms of time. Earlier this year, The Irish Times reported that trainee teachers spend four times as long on religion as science and that 30% of teaching is on Irish and religion.When the Board of National Education was set up in 1831, one of its core values was to separate the teaching of secular and religious education. It is a testament to the power of the churches that this changed over time, and religion became a core part of the syllabus, in church-run schools.

It’s time to change. Irish should be considered in the same context as old-English, a subject left to third-level, where it would be a niche, but enthusiastically studied discipline. Religion should be left for the religious to teach, outside the school walls, and outside school time. The huge amount of teaching time and money left in their wake could be devoted to science, politics, Irish culture, computing, ethics, civics…

Cad é an mhaith dom eagla a bheith orm? Ní shaorfadh eagla duine ón mbás, dar ndóigh.

Peig Sayers