The Education Minister in Ireland, Jan O'Sullivan, will repeal a law that discriminates among students based on their religious status, favoring baptized Catholic students over children of different or no religion. The law will also discontinue the priority given to religious instruction in primary schools.
The 50-year old âRule 68' that the Minister is to abolish in January 2016 considers religion to be a fundamental part of children's education and says that "a religious spirit should inform and vivify the whole work of the school," The Breaking News reports. O'Sullivan pledged:
"Rule 68 is archaic. I will repeal it. It may have survived for 50 years, but in January it will be removed, along with any other rules that don't speak to the diverse and welcoming nature of our modern school system."
With about 98 percent of primary schools run by the Catholic Church, non-baptized children find it hard to enroll in denominational schools when they have no other option. The rule in the Equal Status Acts lets the Catholic Church give precedence to Catholic students when there is a limited number of available student slots in the school. By repealing the regulation, schools will have to give priority to local children and not those of the school's faith.
O'Sullivan says that repealing the law will create a debate regarding the role and extent of religious education and ensure that non-religious students enrolled in denominational schools won't have to receive Catholic teachings and influence.
For many non-Catholic or non-religious parents, Rule 68 poses a conundrum because many are forced to enroll their children in Catholic schools due to lack of choice. For anyone who wants to see the influence of religion on primary education diminish, the Rule repeal is good news, The Independent.ie says.
According to Rule 68, religious instruction is considered the most important subject matter in Catholic schools. As O'Sullivan emphasizes, important subjects such as science and physical education take the back seat in schools:
"We want [students] to be physically active and fit, but we devote less than half of the time to PE that is devoted to religion." She added about science instruction: "We understand that an early appreciation of science can engage and astound our children in wonderful ways, but science education also gets less than half the time that religion does in our curriculum."
Apart from abolishing Rule 68, the Irish government aims to develop a new primary school curriculum on religion, beliefs and ethics, The Irish Examiner says, in a bid to make students aware of other religions and beliefs.
The Forum on Patronage and Pluralism recommended the repeal. At the same time, the Irish National Teacher Organization (INTO) has also asked for the rule's abolition arguing that it's unfair for teachers and parents. The Irish Independent says that the Belvedere College and Blackrock College have in the past opposed the abolition of the regulation as have other denominational schools in the country.
According to the same source, the Admissions to School legislation aims to make school enrollment in the country more transparent and fair for all students and ban the discrimination against children of other faiths or no faith.