Ireland isn’t the first option that comes to mind if listing countries where primary school children might learn about atheism. Currently, 93% of the country’s primary schools are run by the Catholic Church, and the State curriculum makes no mention of non-belief in the primary level. However, it now seems that over 16,000 Irish pupils will learn about atheism starting next year.

Atheist Ireland has teamed up with multi-denominational Educate Together schools to design a 10 lesson course on atheism for primary school children. The lessons will be run as a part of a basic introduction course to ethics and belief systems. In its initial phase the reach of the lessons might be limited, as Catholic schools won’t be forced to introduce the topic. But, the multi-denominational school sector is growing fast, and Atheist Ireland has come up with a way to also include children in Catholic schools, as the lessons will be offered as an app on smartphones.

Michael Nugent, Atheist Ireland's co-founder, discusses the need for this kind of a course in the Guardian:

"Religion isn't even taught properly as an objective subject with various religions and their origins examined and explained. The teaching is to create faith formation first, not objective education. We see our course as a chance for young Irish children to get an alternative view on how the world works."

Last year, talk about reforming the Irish education system received increasing attention, when Ruairi Quinn, the minister for education, suggested that hundreds of schools should be moved out of Catholic control. Quinn's wish to loosen the Catholic hold of the country's education reflects recent opinion polls, which show considerable rise in non-belief in Ireland.

There has now been some discussion on whether or not atheism should or even can be taught (see the comments for these articles), but I don't see why including atheism in education would be a major issue. As a part of a comprehensive education on world religions and different world-views, why shouldn’t children also examine why some people don't believe in god(s)? Non-belief and atheism are topics commonly featured in news and public discussions, so it is only right that schoolkids know what being an atheist means. The suggested course is not about teaching youngsters how to not believe (which indeed sounds just silly), but about understanding and critically examining different world-views, including atheism.