Ivana Bacik was on the radio yesterday. She feels that there should be more secular schools in Ireland and I have to say that I agree with her.
As I’ve mentioned here before, my children and I are not Christian. We’re what’s referred to as Hindu and, when the time came to put their names down for school, I was torn. I wanted to send them to an Irish-language school (a Gaelscoil), but I didn’t want to send them to a Christian school.
In the end, it wasn’t my decision. When my eldest was 4, there were no places available at any of the seven schools that accept girls in any of the three towns nearby. Finally, when she was five years and two months old, the principal of the nearest Gaelscoil contacted me. She told me that there was a place for my daughter at her school. My relief was palpable – trying to ensure my daughter’s education had become almost a full-time job and I was starting to worry that she would never see the inside of a school building. (I had thought about homeschooling, but was in the middle of a degree myself, so that wasn’t a practical option).
In September of 2007, my Big One started school – a year after I had wanted her to.
Interestingly, the local Educate Together has always told me that they have no places for my children. This school is walking distance from our home – while the Gaelscoil is 5 miles away. I put my youngest daughter’s name down on their waiting list in 2004, before she was even six months old. Yet, in April of last year (2009), they wrote to tell me that there was still no place for her in Junior Infants. I have often wondered how this could be. There is no sibling rule in operation at that school; also, I know mothers of white, baptised Catholic children whose names were put on the list after my daughters’. Yet there was room for their children, but not mine. I’m just saying.
As it happens, the Gaelscoil my girls attend embraces diversity. Diwali is celebrated in my kids’ classes every year and, despite the school being run under the auspices of the Catholic bishop, they are not compelled to learn Catholic prayers or to be schooled in that faith. My Big One is in First Class and they have a religion book. When the rest of the class pulls their religion books out – she does, too. The only difference is that hers is for Hindu kids.
I don’t entirely think, however, that religion has no place in school. If there were a Hindu school I could send my children to, believe me, I would. The nearest one is in London, so that’s not going to happen any time soon. In the absence of that, however, I would like to see the Catholic Church bowing out of the majority of Irish schools. I wouldn’t advocate banning them altogether, but I do think that the amount of Catholic schools should be reflective of the percentage of people who are regular church-goers. Perhaps the best option is a school system which gives students an overview of a number of faiths, but doesn’t get mired in specific doctrine. That, I know, was the idea of the Educate Together schools, but that isn’t the way they have turned out. Certainly not round my way, anyhow.