Teach, but don’t preach

religion in school

“I’d get in trouble with a lot of my fellow Christian ministers, but in schools, we don’t need Christian religious education, we need people to be literate about the religions that are in New Zealand,” said  Anglican vicar John Hebenton, shortly after the Christchurch Mosque massacre.

His voice is one a many that are calling for New Zealand schools to teach their students more about religion.

John Shaver, head of religious studies at the University of Otago, agrees.

“It’s ridiculous to think one shouldn’t teach religion, given its importance in human society.

Every society has a religion of some sort, so to not talk about what that is would be a huge disservice to the education of children – it would be equivalent to hiding politics from education.”

Peter Donovan, a former associate professor of religious studies at Massey University, said New Zealand’s religious diversity should be recognised within different curriculum areas.

Rather than any “heavy loadings of beliefs and doctrine”,  classrooms should be places where students can learn about different beliefs, gods, texts, rituals and customs, “so schools can share in the life of their wider communities and increase awareness of religious diversity”.

“The mosque shootings [highlighted] the need for accepting that we have a lot of religions and opinions about religions in New Zealand,” Donovan says.

In New Zealand,  primary schools are permitted to close for one hour each week to allow religious instruction to take place.

There are a number of religious instruction providers and they all have different syllabuses.

However, they do not teach about religion, they instruct in Christian religious faith.

The main provider is the Churches Education Commission, now called Launchpad.

It operates in about 600 schools around the country.

Apart from a requirement for police vetting of all presenters, the Ministry of Education takes no role in overseeing course content.


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News category: New Zealand.

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