Although the term “religious education” is widely used, it possesses a multitude of connotations for a variety of stakeholders.
In this document, the term “religious education” is used as an umbrella term which includes learning about religion as well as other experiences which may develop and nurture a religious way of living.
Religious education is lifelong and life-wide. This means that religious education occurs from birth to death and in a variety of contexts, including the home, the parish or religious community, the school, the workplace and the wider community. Religious education in the school context is a distinct, yet related and complementary component of lifelong and life-wide religious education.
Religious education in a Catholic school can be described as having two distinct, yet complementary processes. The Congregation for Catholic Education, in its document The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School (RD) 1988, refers to these processes as ‘catechesis’ and ‘religious instruction’.
Firstly the document makes a very clear distinction between these two dimensions of religious education. “Catechesis takes place within a community living out its faith at a level of space and time not available to a school: a whole lifetime. … The aim of catechesis, or handing on the Gospel message, is maturity: spiritual, liturgical, sacramental and apostolic; this happens most especially in a local Church community. The aim of the school, however, is knowledge. While it uses the same elements of the Gospel message, it tries to convey a sense of the nature of Christianity, and of how Christians are trying to live their lives” (Congregation for Catholic Education, 1988, nn. 68, 69).
The complementary nature of these two processes is also emphasised in this document. “It is evident, of course, that religious instruction cannot help but strengthen the faith of a believing student, just as catechesis cannot help but increase one’s knowledge of the Christian message” (Congregation for Catholic Education, 1988, n.69).
The Congregation for Catholic Education (1988) goes on to state that the Catholic school can and must play its part in both processes. It challenges Catholic schools to discover and design opportunities for catechesis within its total environment and experiences (e.g. retreat programs, reflection days, social justice activities, class and school Masses and other religious rituals). It also challenges Catholic schools to develop classroom religion programs that “make use of the best educational methods available to schools” (Congregation for Catholic Education, 1988, n.70).
This Curriculum is designed specifically for use in the classroom teaching and learning of religion. It aims to enhance knowledge, skills and processes.
When combined with a whole range of experiences in Catholic schools, homes, parishes and the wider community, the school religion program should also strengthen the faith of believers and encourage the development of Christian values. However, that is not its primary focus. Its purpose is to increase learners’ understanding of Catholicism in particular and religion in general so that they are able to participate effectively and critically within classroom, school, church and community contexts. In order for this to happen, this Religion syllabus aims to enhance the ‘religious literacy’ of learners.
The school Religion program needs to have “the same educational demands, depth and rigor as other school disciplines” (National Catholic Education Commission, 1999, p 29). Therefore teachers need to use the best teaching and learning practices, strategies, resources and assessment processes, just as they do in other key learning areas. This requires a variety of approaches that respond to the needs, interests and abilities of the learners. Teachers should also be as academically prepared for teaching the Religion program as they are for the other curriculum areas. In this way, teaching and learning about religion will be effected “with all the breadth and depth of intellectual excitement one is capable of” (Moran, 1991, p.252).