ONE OF the State’s largest Catholic teacher-training colleges has said it is “unreservedly committed to catering for students from all faith traditions and none”.
Mary Immaculate College of Education in Limerick says it is also committed to preparing teachers to teach all pupils, whatever their religious beliefs.
In a submission to the current review of teacher education, the college says it has conducted a root-and-branch reform of its teacher education programme.
It says the decision by Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn to extend teacher training from three to four years gave it an opportunity to “address historical imbalances and shortfalls” in the existing three-year programme and to develop a programme that is informed by current international research in teacher education.
In a background paper on teacher education prepared for the Higher Education Authority, Prof Áine Hyland notes how there continues to be concern in “some education circles” about the content of religious education programmes provided by Mary Immaculate and some other colleges.
A review by the Teaching Council also expressed concern about the focus given by Mary Immaculate to religious education compared to science and other subjects.
This week an international review panel is visiting teacher-training colleges as part of the overall review of the sector.
In its submission, Mary Immaculate details how the number of contact hours allocated to religious education in its new four-year bachelor of education (B.Ed) degree is similar to that provided for art, music and drama.
In meeting the needs of contemporary Irish society, it says students taking its new B.Ed programme can opt for Christian religious education – or an alternative course designed to prepare students to teach in multidenominational, community national schools and other schools.
The student population at Mary Immaculate has grown tenfold to 3,200 in the past two decades. Last year, more than 900 students graduated from the college, of whom 500 were newly qualified teachers. This represents the highest number of graduates entering the teaching profession from any college in the State.
The college says it expects that some 90 per cent of academic staff will hold doctoral level qualifications within the next three to five years.
In its submission, the college says the changing economic, social and cultural profile of Ireland has thrown the evolutionary nature of education into sharp relief.
“MIC has responded by promoting a culture of critical reflection and dialogue among staff and students so that they meet the challenges of social differentiation while retaining the characteristics of a specifically Irish educational experience.
“In particular,” the submission adds, “our future teachers will have a sense of the needs of those who are vulnerable in society and will be enabled to recognise their dignity.”
Prof Michael Hayes was appointed president of Mary Immaculate in April. From Limerick, he is an internationally renowned academic in theology and religious studies.
Journalist: Seán Flynn