Tuesday, 12 December 2000
Dáil Eireann Debate
417. Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Education and Science the steps that have been taken to implement the recommendations of the Council of Europe, Nos. 1178/92 and 1412/99 on the illegal activities of sects. [29528/00]
In so far as issues related to the curriculum are concerned, I wish to outline a number of ways in which the issue of sects is addressed either directly or indirectly. In summary, these are to be found in the social, personal and health education programme at primary level and in the civic,  social and personal education and religious education syllabi at second level.
Social, personal and health education – SPHE – is a new subject which is included for the first time in the recently revised primary school curriculum. It is designed to be delivered in three ways: through the attitudes, values and practices conveyed in a positive school climate and atmosphere, through integration with other subject areas in a cross-curricular approach and through dedicated curricular time. Among the aims of the SPHE programme are to promote the personal development and well-being of the child, and to enable the child to make informed decisions and choices about the social, personal and health dimensions of life both now and in the future. Pupils are taught to be aware of and to respect the various cultural, religious, ethnic or other groups that exist in their communities. They are also taught self-protection and safety skills such as identifying and avoiding situations and people who make them feel threatened and accepting an increasing degree of responsibility for their own safety and well-being as they get older. They are encouraged to be assertive, to know when to seek help and to confide in people, whom they consider to be trustworthy, such as their parents and teachers.
At second level, civic, social and political education – CSPE – prepares students for active participatory citizenship. The syllabus is based on a number of central concepts which collectively inform and clarify the concept of citizenship. These include democracy, rights and responsibilities, human dignity and law. The syllabus helps students to develop their ability to explore, analyse and evaluate. It enables students to become skilled and practised in moral and critical appraisal and capable of making decisions and judgments, based on human rights and social responsibilities. In its methodology and assessment procedures, there is a significant bias towards the application of practical skills required for participatory citizenship. Thus, students are equipped to confront such issues as the work of groups who might seek to impose their beliefs on others by illegal means or through the use of undue pressure or duress.
The phased introduction of a new religious education syllabus for junior cycle was begun in 50 schools in September 2000, with the first junior certificate examination in the subject scheduled for 2003. This syllabus deals with the foundations of religious belief through a study of major world religions. It is understood that a leaving certificate syllabus, which is at an advanced stage of preparation, allows a more detailed study of world religions incorporating new religious movements. The syllabus will focus on the definition of a cult, on common characteristics and new religious movements. The treatment of this topic will be in the context of the educational rationale for the inclusion of religious education in the curriculum as outlined in the syllabus. Among the stated aims of religious education are the follow ing: to foster an awareness that the human search for meaning is common to all peoples of all ages and at all times; to explore how this search for meaning has found and continues to find expression in religion; to appreciate the richness of religious traditions and to acknowledge the non-religious interpretation of life.
The Deputy's question also raises the issue of school attendance. The recommendation of the Council of Europe, inter alia, calls on the Governments of member states to ensure that legislation on the obligation to enrol children at school is rigorously applied and that appropriate authorities intervene in the event of non-compliance. This is entirely in line with the provisions of the Education (Welfare) Act, 2000, which provide specifically that children must be enrolled in recognised schools, unless they are receiving an adequate education in another specified-registered setting. The Act also provides for the establishment of a new agency, the National Education Welfare Board, which will play a key role, through its officers, in ensuring that the constitutional rights of children within the specified age groups are delivered in this context.
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