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Speak up, parents!

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The Changing Face of Catholic Education in Ireland was the title of a talk given by Educationalist David Tuohy SJ to the Jesuit Identity Group in Galway on Wednesday 17 April. The group is composed of parents and teachers from Scoil Iognáid, and he outlined for them the contested nature of Catholic education from an insider and outsider perspective.

For insiders, he outlined different models of Church with particular reference to an institutional and a community model, and teased out the implications of this for people’s concept of who should attend a Catholic school and how it should be organised.

Some people advocate “schools for Catholics” whereas others advocate “Catholic education for all”. He proposed that Catholic schools needed to have a stronger sense of evangelisation and witness and a balanced approach to the work of pre-evangelisation (developing the human), evangelisation (explaining the message) and support (integrating those who accept the message into the Christian community).  

From an outsider perspective, Catholic schools are challenged by people who have a different agenda for the role of values, talent development and inclusivity in schools. They often promote their agenda and portray the Catholic approach as either out-of-date or divisive. This can be seen particularly in a secularist agenda, where there is either an anti-religion stance, or an approach which relegates religion to a private sphere and does not value it. This agenda is often argued in terms of diversity issues, where different models of assimilation, accommodation and integration are proposed. Frequently, the banner of integration is really a form of assimilation to a non-religious outlook.

David went on to illustrate how some of this agenda was being worked out in primary education, with the demand for diversity of patronage. This created a political challenge where there was a demand for a wider range of patrons but a decrease in the number of schools. To aid this process, some of the structural barriers for new patrons – contribution to building and to running costs by the patron, had been removed. However, this now created a historical anomaly, given the contribution the Church had made as patron – a contribution that was being air-brushed out. The second approach was to make demands on schools as to how Religious Education was to be taught, and how sacramental and other celebrations were to be curtailed.

As a response to these developments, David suggested that a key role for parents was to develop a greater understanding of the link between home-school-parish in faith formation, and to seek the appropriate help in their role. In particular, parents had to develop the confidence to speak about the good of religion in their own lives and their desire that their children might experience the same. This confidence is essential in order to engage in the political debate for the future.