Religion is to be taught as an academic subject in Irish schools with the option of an exam.

Under the 1997 Education Bill, religion is to become an optional exam subject in schools.

It's a subject children study from the time they enter primary school until the time they leave post-primary.

Until now, there has been no official state exam in the subject of religion despite the fact that it is studied in schools from the beginning of primary until the end of secondary. A new bill will amend legislation which dates back to 1878 to allow religion become an examination subject. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) is preparing syllabi for the Junior and Leaving Certificates and has welcomed the change in the legislation. The NCCA says that the subject will be taught as an academic discipline and the exam will be optional.

Students would learn about a variety of religions.

Albert Ó Ceallaigh of the NCCA says that students would learn about Christianity and other religions including Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism. Students would also learn about the non religious interpretation of life. However, the Association of Irish Humanists complained that its suggestions for the new syllabi have been ignored.

Religious instruction is already compulsory in most schools and the NCCA said that this would not be affected by the introduction of the new exam subject.

The Minister for Education has yet to decide when the new religious syllabi are to be introduced.

An RTÉ News report broadcast on 6 January 1997. The reporter is Carole Coleman.