The Net

Net Issue: January 2022

Theme: Reflecting on the value of Catholic Education…

THERE is a saying, “You never miss the water ‘til the well runs
dry”, that is, it is only when something is gone that we truly
appreciate it.
With an independent review currently underway regarding
education in Northern Ireland, and, with Catholic Education
regularly criticised as being a relic of a divided past, the future of
Catholic Schools is in question.
As we prepare to celebrate Catholic Schools Week from January
23-30, a number of people in the Diocese have shared their
thoughts on the value of Catholic Education for our young people
and society.
Considering the place for faith-based education in an
increasingly diverse and secular Northern Ireland into the future,
they have reflected on whether Catholic schools can be welcoming
to pupils from all faith backgrounds and none, how Catholic
schools in Northern Ireland can promote reconciliation and not
be seen as supporting division, and whether one secular state
system is the only way forward.

Online version

Overcoming sheer lack of interest in faith values a major challenge

Whilst these thoughts have been prompted by the review that is currently underway regarding education in Northern Ireland and its potential impact on faith-based education, the situation South of the border is really not far behind with an apparently relentless attempt to drive religious education out of schools. An immediate reaction is to want to fight these moves as something that will undermine the passing on of our Faith but I think that before seeking to defend the status quo, we should perhaps ask ourselves how well that status quo is working and whether it is delivering real results.

Sadly, I think it is not delivering results as can be seen by the minimal levels of participation of young people in Mass and other church services. The poor attendance of children is well recognised – “we see them at First Communion but don’t see them again until Confirmation and then until their wedding or funeral” is a common refrain. Perhaps even more worrying is the similarly minimal level of participation among young adults, the people on whom we are likely to depend for the provision of faith education outside of schools.

This is no reflection on the teachers in our schools who work so hard to teach our religious values to our children but struggle against the fact that there is little or no interest in those values in the children’s homes and the children are assailed from all sides by things that are (or appear to be) far more interesting.

Overcoming this sheer lack of interest is a major challenge and should be a key element of our reflection during the Synodal Pathway. Teaching the Faith as just another school subject and perhaps trying to replace the current school-based approach with some sort of Sunday School framework is unlikely to give any better results than what we are currently getting. In order to thrive, our Faith has to be part and parcel of what we are, an integral part of the lives we lead. That, to me, is the real challenge we face – getting our young people to realise the value that our Catholic Faith can add to their lives. If we can achieve that then, we will see a genuine appetite for a better understanding of that Faith and that appetite is surely what drives education and understanding.

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