Although the State is technically responsible for education, in that there is a Ministry that nominally oversees it and the State provides a large chunk of educational funding, the entire Irish school system lacks central coordination. That means that schools set their own admissions policies, and in doing so they are explicitly allowed to make certain discriminations, eg. in favour of children confirmed in a certain religion or in favour of children of past pupils, etc.
There are a lot of issues with this:
- it entrenches social inequality
- it entrenches a religious bias in what should rightly be a secular activity
- the quality of education varies from school to school
- some students literally fall through the cracks of the various school admissions policies and end up without a school to attend in their area, since none of these schools are required to work together to provide blanket coverage
The various discriminatory loopholes, as well as the laissez-faire attitude are often justified with arguments about a school’s right to preserve its ‘ethos’. I’ve never been able to track down what that is precisely supposed to mean in the context of education. Are there schools out there with such a radically different ‘ethos’ that they start the day with a pop quiz in break-and-entry and wind up with a bit of vandalism before lunch break? Because how or why ‘ethos’ plays a role in verb conjugation or algebra is a bit of a mystery.
I’m sure Ayn Rand would approve of this mess, which is allegedly all about ‘free choice’, but where you (shockingly) have more choice if you are rich and happen to support the prevailing establishment religion.
However, in my view, primary and secondary education are not some sort of luxury goods where one browses through the boutique offerings of unique service providers. Education at this level is a basic need, paid for largely through general taxation. And the purpose of State-funded schooling is to create an educated workforce equipped with whatever the skills of the day are. When certificates and degrees are handed out, they certify that the person in question has obtained a certain standard of learning, not as a stamp that they are the ‘right’ kind of person.
All high-flown language to the contrary, as a country, we are not educating people as a special favour to them, or because they are from a certain family or because they share the same religion. We are doing so purely to make them as productive as possible.
It is neither useful nor practical to attempt to control anyone’s mind and convictions for the rest of their life. Schools shouldn’t be ‘molding’ people, they should be giving them the opportunity to form their own character and providing them with the basic tools they need to function independently and make their own choices.
To ensure that that happens, we need to institute centralized State control over the education system that we are, after all, already paying for through our taxes.
Religion (or any other system of ethics) is a personal matter and religious instruction should occur on one’s own time (and own dime). Schools should not have individualized admissions policies, still less should they be permitted to discriminate against students from certain backgrounds.
In the interests of achieving this, I advocate ending the patronage system of schooling, and placing all schools under a state school board with a coordinated and uniform admissions policy that ensures that every student gets the same standard of education at the next-nearest school, all of which should immediately cease to be segregated by gender or any other criteria.