THE need to cater for the diverse student population is one of the biggest challenges facing the education system, Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe has said.
With international pupils making up a large proportion of the thousands of extra children in Irish classrooms, the Catholic Church admitted this week that it may need to reduce its number of primary schools.
The provision of education for children of different faiths may be partially addressed by the Department of Education’s move to create a model of primary school patronage by Vocational Education Committees for the first time from this autumn.
Mr O’Keeffe said that, apart from the obvious challenge of finances and how they are managed, there is also a challenge to address the general ethos in the education system and raise the spectrum of the importance of education.
“We’re talking about the quality of that education and having a fully integrated system in Ireland that will embrace the diversity that’s now part and parcel of our identity,” he said.
The Catholic bishops published a pastoral letter this week on their vision for the future of the Church’s role in education, but is also seeking public views on the issue.
Mr O’Keeffe said the Catholic Church has played an outstanding role in Irish education and society has benefited from its commitment to the promotion of education.
“It’s progressive that the Church has become very democratic, to the extent that it now wants to consult with parents about where they see the role of the Church in education. That’s a welcome development and something that I would support very much,” he said.
The issue of diversity in schools will continue to be considered by Conor Lenihan, who remains as Minister of State with responsibility for integration at Mr O’Keeffe’s and other departments, following Taoiseach Brian Cowen’s announcement of his junior ministers yesterday.
Seán Haughey will also keep his responsibilities for lifelong learning and school transport at the Department of Education.
Mr Cowen told the Dáil yesterday that integration was a huge challenge for the country, but that Mr Linehan would get the full support of his ministerial colleagues to address it.
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