One in every five children attending primary schools in Argentina receives religious education, statistics of the Education Ministry revealed. The 1,029,031 out of the 4,816,629 total students who fit in this category are distributed between the private schools that provide religious education and the children who go to public schools in the provinces of Tucumán and Salta, where Catholic education is mandatory by law.
— Chelsea E. Manning (@xychelsea) June 12, 2017
The percentage is even higher in the Buenos Aires Province, where one in every three primary and high school students attend a private school that professes a religion — mostly Catholic. Overall, half of the students in Buenos Aires City go to private school. And according to Infobae, the number could be even higher considering that there are almost 400,000 students who attend schools which are not on record as being either explicitly religious or secular.
Except for the cases of Tucumán and Salta, these statistics are a result of a growing trend of parents choosing to send their children private schools. According to a report by the Center of Studies of Argentine Education (CEA), 433,549 children changed from public to private education between 2003 and 2015.
It is valid to clarify that the parents’ reasons to send their kids to private school are diverse, and might not have to do with their desire to have their children receive a religiously based education. Many consider private schools equipped to provide a better level of education than public options. Others decided to make the investment as a result of the numerous conflicts between the public administrations and the public teachers unions across the country to prevent their children from missing schooldays, a result of the numerous strikes they conduct.
“Lower and middle-class families choose private schools for different reasons: they are close to their homes, they teach foreign languages, their school day lasts from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM instead of 8 AM to 12 PM and other factors, meaning that religious education is not a determinant factor at the time of choosing a school,” Sociologist Ana Prieto told Infobae.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of these numbers — besides the broader debate about the general state of public education in Argentina — is the fact that the administrations of the Tucumán and Salta provinces have imposed religious education in the territories’ public schools. The initiative has more than one detractor and the national Supreme Court called on August 19 a public hearing to discuss the decision’s constitutionality, following a formal accusation presented by groups of parents and an NGO called Association for Civil Rights.
Another source of controversy arose earlier this year when Education Minister, Esteban Bullrich said that “public schools should teach religion, but not only one [religion].”:
“The example of Jesus must be learned, but also the example of Muhammad, the precepts of Buddhism and Hinduism, other religions to grow together acknowledging the other,” said the minister when opening a public school, in a ceremony that was presided by a priest. However, sources from the Education Ministry told Clarín there is no chance of the Macri administration promoting explicitly religious education in the country.