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Catholic Schools Week: a balancing act

Catholic schools Week is celebrated for a week from 25 January 2015. This year the emphasis in the US is on Catholic schools as communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service. In Ireland the theme is, Catholic schools: a service for All.

What dismays me most about the media coverage in Ireland is that it is so narrow and polarising. The media discourse seems fueled by needless hostility.

Other countries have shown that it is possible to have Catholic education systems with differing funding mechanisms but which welcome children of other faiths and children of secular conviction. There are Muslims in Australia, for example, who choose to send their children to Catholic parish schools because they themselves were educated in Catholic schools in Lebanon. In France some Muslim parents send their children to Catholic schools because of the tolerance towards wearing the hijab.

The real issue is not what symbols are allowed on the classroom walls but rather the balance between the State’s obligation to educate its children and the right of parents to choose an education which supports their belief system. Ireland has some way to go towards getting the balance right but can we not proceed down that path with a public discourse which both our history and the rights of all the people of Ireland.

For the sake of clarity I should say that non-government schools in Australia do not operate in a non-regulated environment. Teachers must be registered in the state registration system, students must study the approved state curriculum. Schools must present students for state-wide literacy and mathematics testing in primary school and for state examinations in secondary school. Stringent funding accountability processes are in place.