I’m currently going through the painful process of finding a place for my eldest son in secondary school next year. Competition for places is high, so it’s not unusual to find that many schools have an enrolment policy, which helps them decide who gets an offer and who doesn’t. One consideration is whether you live near the school. Another consideration is whether you have a sibling already in the school. Performance in entrance tests and interviews may be considered. In one school we visited, a key criterion appeared to be the extent to which parents wanted their child in the school, i.e., how much they were willing to pester the school management to get their kid a place.
All well and good, but many schools have another card up their sleeve. When you have ticked the suitability boxes on almost everything, your child might still be rejected. He might simply be part of the wrong religion.
Let’s cut to the chase. Children are getting accepted into schools, not on merit, not on ability, but on the overriding need to have the right formulation of strange ideas in their head. Hell, it’s not even their head – it’s expected to be in the heads of their parents. You couldn’t think of a worse reason for a kid to be rejected if you tried.
As far as I know, there is no such thing as Catholic maths, or Protestant geography, or Buddhist science. Schooling is schooling, and, apart from religion classes themselves, your religion should bear no relationship to what is taught in the classroom.
Religion offers people an opportunity to discriminate. Imagine you had to bring your family abroad, to Pakistan, say, and the only school for your daughter was an Islamic school. Part of each day involved learning parts of the Koran off by heart. If you were not Muslim, you would probably be unhappy having her learn it, no matter how well disposed to the school you were. Yet, we don’t see anything wrong with the children of non-affiliated parents being expected to conform to a similar system right here in our own country. Even if the child is exempted from these classes, a line is being drawn quite explicitly between her and other students.
I also wonder whether the “ethos” and “values” cards are overplayed. Religion does not play a part in most workplaces and yet most people seem to be able to show respect for each other. Common humanity: courtesy, manners and compassion, is not the preserve of any one religion or philosophy, as we soon find when we meet people with vastly different upbringings.
The fact that religion can be used as grounds for selection, in such a crucial area of life as education, is a monstrous failure by the Irish State. Religion has no role in the definition of who can be an Irish citizen. Article 44 of the Irish Constitution specifically states that the State shall not discriminate on religious lines. Surely this extends to schools, paid as they are out of taxpayer money?
Here’s my suggestion. It should be made illegal for schools in receipt of public money, to discriminate against children and parents on religious grounds. Ireland urgently needs a level playing field.