By Janina Starkey
Earlier this year, teachers of Religious Education across NSW, began preparing to implement a new senior course of study in Catholic Schools.
This new Religious Education course for students in Year 11 and 12 is known as Studies in Catholic Thought.
The course is unique in that it is the first of its kind in Religious Education to be developed as a ‘common’ course for all dioceses in NSW.
The genesis of this board-endorsed course goes back to 2009. At that time and until now, there were six different Catholic Studies Board-endorsed courses available for senior students in NSW Catholic Schools.
In 2009, the Catholic Bishops of NSW and ACT agreed in principle to taking a coordinated approach to Religious Education in senior high schools, but it was to be some time before this agreement would translate into action.
In November 2015, the Bishops of NSW and the ACT committed to developing a common Stage 6 Religious Education Curriculum for students in Years 11 and 12.
The forward of the syllabus document captures the essence of this new course:
“Studies in Catholic Thought is underpinned by a Catholic liberal arts approach so that students do not simply examine the Catholic faith and way of life as outsiders looking in like scientists examining creatures under a microscope.
“Instead, the students explore the Catholic faith from within the religious tradition, through immersion in Sacred Scripture, theology, philosophy, history, and texts and artwork of the Catholic Tradition.
“This engagement provides the way to a deeper understanding of the Catholic faith, its beliefs and teachings and its way of being human in the world.
“This integrated approach helps the students to develop a holistic understanding of Catholic faith and life.”
Across various dioceses, teachers have been undertaking intensive professional development to deepen their knowledge of the new syllabus and it has been clear that excitement around the course has been building.
Three teachers at St Joseph’s College East Gosford piloted one of the modules from the course with students throughout Term 3.
The teachers and the students involved have been enthusiastic about the course and how it will be a valuable addition to Religious Education in Catholic secondary schools.
On 23 November representatives from the 11 dioceses of NSW, Catholic education offices, religious institutes, contributors to the project and students from De La Salle Ashfield and Bethlehem College, joined together to celebrate the official launch of Studies in Catholic Thought.
The launch held at The Schoolhouse at Mary MacKillop Place, a site important to Catholic education in NSW, was also the venue for the initial discussions that brought this landmark syllabus to life.
Bishop Michael Kennedy of Armidale, who chaired the project that brought this course to fruition, presided over the occasion.
“It is my realistic hope and expectation that, as the one common senior Catholic Religious Education course throughout the state that is theologically based and that appeals to both the head and the heart, Studies in Catholic Thought will help to lift the profile of Catholic Religious Education amongst our students and teachers,” he told those attending the event.
“I look forward to a strengthening of the subject’s appeal; to the immersion of more young people into the richness of our Catholic Tradition; and to increased opportunities for cooperation and sharing of resources and professional development between dioceses.”
From 2019, Studies in Catholic Thought will begin to be offered to students in Catholic schools to study as part of their Higher School Certificate. Studies in Catholic Thought is now entrusted to the many dedicated Religious Education teachers across NSW.
Janina Starkey is the Project Officer for the Stage 6, Catholic Studies Project.