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New RE curriculum to be “unapologetically Catholic”

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Project Officer for the new RE curriculum, Janina Starkey, says the course will focus on the integration of faith and reason in the Catholic tradition. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

A radical new RE curriculum which is unapologetically Catholic will be rolled out in Years 11 and 12 in Catholic schools across NSW beginning this year.

The new curriculum, Studies in Catholic Thought, was requested by the bishops of NSW in 2015, who expressed a desire for a common RE curriculum for all 10 dioceses of NSW.

The new course will replace the current Year 11 and 12 elective subject, Catholic Studies, and will adopt a classic liberal arts approach, bringing together history, philosophy, music, culture and art.

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According to the Project Officer for the new curriculum, Janina Starkey, it is a “radical departure” from current RE curricula in schools across NSW.

“At the heart of it is the integration of faith and reason,” Ms Starkey said.

“That’s something our Church has had for the 2000 years of its history. But it’s not something that has really been very apparent in any of our existing courses. That’s the underlying premise of the new curriculum—how do faith and reason sit together?”

Year 11 and 12 students at De La Salle College Ashfield. PHOTO: Sydney Catholic Schools

A team of academics and practitioners, including theologians and teachers, are currently working together on the new syllabus and Bishop Michael Kennedy of the Armidale Diocese is chair of the project.

Ms Starkey said every diocese and every bishop in NSW has had an opportunity to have a voice in devising the new RE course.

“We’ve drawn on the knowledge base across NSW,” she told The Catholic Weekly.

Ms Starkey, who has taught RE and worked as a Religious Education Coordinator over 18 years, says research demonstrates that current approaches to RE are not assisting students to maintain their Catholic faith.

“The most recent studies out of the US are telling us that children as young as 10 are saying, ‘well, science tells us that the Big Bang is how everything was created, so how does God sit in that? God doesn’t sit in that so I no longer believe’.”

“We’re seeing evidence of that in Australia as well. Why is that, when the Church actually has the oldest scientific institution in the world—the Vatican Observatory? Why do they think faith and reason and science can’t sit together?

Catholic secondary students enjoyed the unapologetic celebration of their faith at the recent Australian Catholic Youth Festival in Sydney. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

“We hope to show students there’s a whole body of work that tells us where God fits and how important the Church is in articulating that in our world today.”
The Director of Religious Education and Evangelisation for Sydney Catholic Schools, Anthony Cleary, told The Catholic Weekly the implementation of a new RE program in Years 11 and 12 is “timely”.

“RE needs to be taught like any other academic discipline and it needs to be rigorous, robust and challenging, and to stretch young people, navigating them into areas that they won’t have previously studied. This new program achieves that.

“It immerses them within the Catholic tradition and exposes them to the more classical elements of the Catholic tradition and of Western thought more generally.

“The enthusiasm and interest of our REC’s is a positive indicator that they look forward to something new and to being able to program it in a way which still enables our schools to differentiate for our students and for the spectrum of student abilities as well,” he said.

Year 11 and 12 students at Trinity Catholic College in Auburn. PHOTO: Sydney Catholic Schools

The new curriculum will be submitted to the NSW Education Standards Authority for endorsement in the first week of April, with an outcome expected by June. If the course is endorsed it could be up and running in some schools this year.

“They’ll be our trail-blazers,” Ms Starkey said. “I’m hoping we’ll have a small cohort in 2018 and then HSC in 2019. But most of our schools will start to come on board in 2019.”

Ms Starkey says she hopes the new course will produce students who are not only well-formed in the Catholic faith but also critical thinkers.
“Our faith is about developing the whole person. We’re not just about building skills, we’re about inter-relationships.

“We haven’t put together a course of Catholic answers. Hopefully we’ll be developing critical thinkers.

‘It’s true to who we are as Catholics. We do have this beautifully rich tradition of faith and reason that is accessible. We’re trying to impart that to our students.”

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