Dáil Éireann - Volume 537 - 12 June, 2001
Written Answers. - Religious Movements-Cults.
Mr. Gregory Mr. Gregory
515. Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Education and Science his response to the issues raised with his Department by Dialogue Ireland on the issue of new religious movements or cults; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16967/01]
Dr. Woods Dr. Woods
 Minister for Education and Science (Dr. Woods): Dialogue Ireland has sought my views on the efficacy of current curriculum provision at primary and second levels to address issues such as young people coming under the influence of undesirable or extremist groups, cults, sects and new religious movements.
The issues to which the group refers are addressed in a number of curriculum areas: in the social, personal and health education programme at primary level and in the civic, social and political education, social, personal and health education, and religious education syllabi at second level.
Social, personal and health education – SPHE – is a new subject within the recently revised primary school curriculum. Among the aims of SPHE are: (1) to promote the personal development and well-being of the child; and (2) 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. The SPHE curriculum is designed to be delivered in three ways: through the attitudes, values and practices conveyed through a positive school climate and atmosphere; through integration with other subject areas in a cross-curricular approach; and through dedicated time on the timetable. The content of the second level SPHE curriculum builds on the primary curriculum and develops these themes and skills at an appropriate 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.
 A religious education syllabus at junior certificate level is being introduced into second level schools on a phased basis and will be examined for the first time in 2003. This syllabus deals with the foundations of religious belief through a study of major world religions and among the stated aims of this subject are the following: to foster an awareness that the human search for meaning is common to 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.
While the syllabus in religious education does not conflict in any way with established religions, it is not concerned primarily with faith formation or with catechetics. It will enable pupils to learn about a broad range of religious traditions and about the non-religious interpretation of life.
A religious education syllabus for leaving certificate is under preparation at the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. This syllabus will provide for a more detailed study of world religions, including new religious movements. This aspect of the syllabus will focus on the definition of a cult, and on common characteristics and new religious movements. The treatment of this topic will take place in the context of the educational rationale for the inclusion of religious education in the curriculum as outlined in the syllabus.
Dáil Éireann 537 Written Answers. Religious Movements-Cults.