Religious Education in Australia
Religious Education in the Mission of the Catholic School
The Catholic school participates in the evangelising mission of the Church and is the privileged environment in which Christian education is carried out.
– The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium, n. 11
Evangelising means bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new.
– Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 18
The Catholic school, along with families and parish communities, shares in the evangelising mission of the Catholic Church to enable its learners to come to know, worship and love the truth of God’s self-revelation in the Person of Jesus Christ, his Only Begotten Son.
The recently published Framing Paper: Religious Education in Australian Catholic Schools of the National Catholic Education Commission, endorsed by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, is a recommended supporting document for school leaders and teachers of Religious Education. The Framing Paper is summarised in the linked video.
Religious Education is the learning area at the heart of the Catholic school’s curriculum and therefore it is given primacy within its explicit learning and teaching program. Like the other learning areas, Religious Education is designed sequentially and is responsive to the learning needs of students. Through the learning and teaching program students develop the knowledge and skills, attitudes and behaviours necessary for discernment and decision-making and for acting justly (GNFL, p. 2).
To achieve this aim it calls on pedagogies and learning experiences in which learners are active participants, engaging their whole persons, head, heart and hands, in a systematic and critical synthesis of culture and faith and of faith and life (Framing Paper, p. 13). When Religious Education brings faith into dialogue with life it has the capacity to be a source of wisdom, a stimulus to lifelong learning, a means to personal transformation and a call to missionary discipleship (Framing Paper, p. 5).
Learners of Religious Education
The desire for God is written in the human heart because the human person is created by God and for God.
– Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 27
From their earliest beginnings children have learned to relate to others and the wider world from within their family. From the family setting learners continue to search for personal meaning, inevitably influenced by other significant experiences: the peer group, technologies and media etc. As these influences are not of a static nature, learners continue to accommodate change in varying ways alongside their own search for meaning and purpose.
The learners in Catholic schools do not comprise a homogeneous group. They exhibit a rich diversity in terms of their most pressing individual needs, their cultural, social and economic backgrounds, their personal qualities, their level of development and the experiences they have had in life.
They are also from a range of faith backgrounds, are at different levels of faith development and have various levels of faith commitment. It is however this diversity that can bring much opportunity, richness and blessing to the Religious Education classroom (Framing Paper, p. 12).
There are Catholic and other Christian learners for whom Religious Education in the classroom can offer the opportunity for catechesis, complementing their experiences of Christianity through their family and parish. There are Catholic and other Christian learners for whom Religious Education can be a new evangelisation since the school is their only regular connection with the Christian faith community. If it is their first connection, the learning area can be the primary or first proclamation and/or initial catechesis. For those learners from other religious traditions, it can deepen their knowledge of and faith in their own tradition; for those learners with no religious affiliation, it can be the primary or first proclamation of the Good News (Framing Paper, p. 12).
The Catholic school curriculum should be genuinely inclusive, responsive to the needs of learners and should employ a wide range of learning and teaching strategies so that all students might participate with a heightened sense of worth and achievement (GNFL, p. 49).
The Catholic school curriculum seeks to engage and empower learners to investigate, inquire, critically reflect and dialogue with Catholic teaching, culture and their experience, whilst also regularly inviting interaction with the religious life of the school and parish, including liturgy, social outreach and youth ministry.
General Implications for Learning and Teaching
- Religious Education must work in harmony with the normal maturing processes of the individual.
- Learners need support towards developing intellectual frameworks by means of which they reflect on experience, and search for personal meaning in the light of the faith tradition.
- Informed discussion, storytelling, rituals, symbols and the imagination generally are indispensable elements of Religious Education.
- The peer group exercises a powerful influence and can be effectively utilised in Religious Education through discussion, collaboration, planning and practical activity.
- The aims of Religious Education are inextricably linked with the aims of the general curriculum, which seeks the development of the whole person.
- There is a need for sensitive awareness of the particular challenges experienced by students at every period of their development and of their need for acceptance, patience and tolerance (GNFL, p. 50).
The Religious Education Teacher
The Church calls the teacher of Religious Education in a Catholic school to be outstanding in correct doctrine, the witness of a Christian life and teaching skill.
– Framing Paper, p. 15
The teacher of Religious Education collaborates in the evangelising mission of the Catholic school to proclaim the Gospel in both word and action. The role of the teacher of the Good News for Living extends beyond simply imparting knowledge, as the teacher is called to be an authentic witness of the Catholic Christian faith, inviting learners into discipleship of Jesus Christ.
It is desirable that all teachers of Religious Education are Catholic and display a demonstrable commitment to the teachings of the Catholic Church in the area of faith and morals along with regular participation in Sunday Eucharist and, more generally, in the life of the Parish community (Standard 7 - Religious Education Standards, p. 9).
Teachers enter into a dialogue with the lived experience of their learners and through their guided inquiry, they enable learners to come to a deeper understanding of what the Catholic Church believes, celebrates, lives and prays. Teachers use a range of strategies to engage learners in higher-order thinking skills in order to reflect on self, the world and God in the light of personal experience, Sacred Scripture and Tradition. In doing so they seek to cultivate reflection, discernment, decision-making and action and to nurture the development of an informed conscience (GNFL, p. 23).
The Formation and Accreditation of Religious Education Teachers in the Archdiocese of Hobart
Continual formation for mission of teachers of Good News for Living assists them to deepen their knowledge and understanding of Scripture and of Catholic Tradition, and to develop the professional qualities of effective religious educators, including:
- being a person of prayer who is attentive to one’s own spirituality
- having a thorough knowledge of Catholic theology and doctrine
- maintaining competency in the area of Religious Education pedagogy
- striving to integrate faith and life
- displaying creativity, openness and a willingness to work in partnership with colleagues, parents and the church community
- being informed about current issues of religion (GNFL, p. 18).
On commencement of their appointment to work as teachers of Religious Education in a Catholic school in the Archdiocese of Hobart, teachers are awarded provisional accreditation to teach Religious Education (Accreditation C). They are supported and accompanied through various formation pathways by their school community and the Catholic Identity and Evangelisation (CI&E) team to attain full accreditation within their first five (5) years of teaching Religious Education. The specific requirements of teachers for full accreditation to teach Religious Education are outlined in the Accreditation Framework - Formation for Mission Pathways for Catholic Schools in Tasmania, pp. 8–10.