On Monday 28 September Bishop Brendan Leahy, Chair of the Bishops’ Council for Catechetics launched the new Catholic Preschool and Primary School Religious Education Curriculum for Ireland (2015), and its related religious education programme Grow in Love in the Presentation Girls’ School, Maynooth. This is the first time in the history of primary religious education that teachers have been offered, in the form of a curriculum, a structured outline of religious education as an academic discipline. Grow in Love (Veritas) is the religious education programme based on the curriculum and will be available for use in Junior and Senior (P1 and P2) classes from September 2015.
The new Catholic Preschool and Primary School Curriculum for Ireland (2015) will be rolled out in all Catholic primary schools on the island of Ireland over the next four years. It is envisaged that the Grow in Love programme and other resources based on this outline will be developed to support teachers in their implementation of the curriculum. The purpose of the new curriculum is to guide and inform the teaching of pre-school and primary religious education. The curriculum uses an outcomes approach, emphasising the educational alignment between religious education and the other six areas of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment Primary School Curriculum (1999) for the Republic of Ireland.
The new Catholic Preschool and Primary School Curriculum for Ireland is addressed to bishops as patrons of Catholic schools, to teachers, to principals, to programme writers, to Diocesan Advisors and to lecturers in the field of primary religious education. Grow in Love is the education programme based on the new curriculum. Some of the content at various levels is different from the content that was taught in the previous Alive-O series. Teachers have been welcoming both the change and the continuity evident between one series and the next. The children’s Grow in Love textbooks are designed to be used both in school and at home and each week, families are asked to help their children to do something related to Grow in Love for homework. The text books give the parents the resources to do this. This approach is in line with the vision contained in Share the Good News – the National Directory for Catechesis in Ireland which sees home, parish and school working together to share the faith with children.
Speaking at the launch Bishop Brendan Leahy said: “Today we are here to launch two valuable texts regarding Religious Education in schools across the island of Ireland – The Catholic Preschool and Primary Religious Education Curriculum for Ireland and The new primary school Religious education series, Grow in Love. It is an occasion to celebrate and I am grateful to you for your attendance here today at the Presentation Girls School in Maynooth. If, as Pope Francis affirms, education is “a key, key, key mission”, then the publication of significant texts to do with religious education that is so much at the core of the primacy school curriculum, is indeed something to highlight.
In recent decades the Church has been blessed with rich documentation on religious education ranging from Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi Tradendae in 1979 to the General Catechetical Directory published in 1997 and the 2013 publication by the Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating to Intercultural Dialogue in Catholic Schools Living in Harmony for a Civilization of Love.
Drawing from that reservoir, we now have the first formal religious education curriculum for Catholic preschools and primary schools in the whole island of Ireland. Written in conformity to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and in accordance with the vision outlined in the Irish Directory for Catechesis, Share the Good News, the Curriculum provides a structured outline of what religious education as an academic discipline in Catholic schools contributes to the Catholic education and formation of young children at pre-school and primary level. Parents (and I very pleased we have parents representatives here with us today) and teachers, academics, school leaders and parish communities have already welcomed this development. The Bishops of Ireland hope this Curriculum will provide a new impetus for the religious education and faith formation of Catholic children in the whole island of Ireland in the twenty-first century.
Teachers, school principals and staff contribute very much to religious education in Ireland. Indeed, I want to express the gratitude of the Bishops for all they do so professionally and with commitment. Many of us remember with fondness our primary school teachers, grateful in many cases for their care and heart-felt engagement with us in our religious education. I think of interesting discussions that opened up for us with our teachers around religious themes.
But we cannot outsource education in Christian faith to teachers alone. Family involvement is crucial. I make my own words spoken in an important address at the weekend by Archbishop Eamon Martin at the National Eucharistic Congress: “A school catechetical programme alone, no matter how rigorous, will not secure the handing on of the faith. It will succeed only insofar as it builds upon the lived faith experience of the young people in their homes and family.” The new programme, Grow in Love, has taken great care to emphasise the role of the family, offering a simple and attractive book to be brought home so that the family can continue what has done in school. This book offers opportunities for parents to review and chat with their children about the themes that have been covered in school.
The launch of the two significant texts today cannot but also imply an appeal to parents: just as you are careful in all other aspects of your child’s upbringing, be generous in your attention given to this core aspect of your child’s life. Children have a right to be helped to articulate the religious sense they feel deep within them. I believe it is important to provide them with an early training in a language that enables them to express the deepest longing of their heart in faith, prayer and knowledge. We need to help them satisfy the desire of their soul and the thirst of their mind. As Christians, all of us, school, parish community and family are called to recognise that children have a right to the Good News that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is working together at all levels that we respond to that right.”