Religious education 'facing a crisis'

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 June, 2006, 12:00am

Proposed liberal studies course is too objective, says director of Buddhism

Secondary schools run by religious groups face a major upheaval in the way they teach faith with the introduction of the new senior secondary curriculum, education leaders of major religions have warned.

'Religious education is very important for students' personal and spiritual growth,' said Sik Hin-hung, director of the Hong Kong Buddhist Association. 'But we are facing a crisis in religious education.'

Master Sik was speaking at an inter-faith conference on religious education held at the Hong Kong Institute of Education's new Centre for Religious and Spirituality Education last weekend.

'The religious education element in the liberal studies course is too narrow. It is too objective,' he said. 'Faith should be taught from a religious perspective.'

In the current curriculum, religious studies can be taken as an examinable subject up to HKCEE. Students have a choice of learning about Buddhism or Christianity. Students in many local schools run by Buddhist or Christian sponsoring bodies are required to take the course.

With the introduction of the three-year senior secondary curriculum in three years' time, however, students are expected to have more control over what electives to take in addition to English, mathematics, Chinese and liberal studies.

'Students will only take two or three electives,' Master Sik said. 'If a student wants to study medicine, they will certainly choose sciences. There simply isn't room for the teaching of religious education.'

Peter Lau Chiu-yin, principal of St Peter's and representative of the Catholic church at the conference, said '3+3+4' would make teaching religious education 'very troublesome'. He said the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong was working on a framework for religious education under the new curriculum, which would cover all years from Primary One upwards.

Tai Tak-ching, principal of Sheng Kung Hui Li Fook Hing Secondary School, said the space for teaching religion would be tighter.

'The majority of Christian schools will continue to teach it, but it is unlikely to be an examinable subject,' Mr Tai said. 'It will rely on the teacher's ability to arouse students' interest in religion. Students will take study of the Bible or Buddhist texts less seriously if there is no exam.'

Lee Yiu-fai, chairman of the Sik Sik Yuen's religious affairs committee, said he was not concerned. The sponsoring body was based on a mixture of the three traditional Chinese faiths - Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism - but religious education was taught in its schools from a cultural perspective.

'We have a very open-minded and inclusive approach to religious education,' Mr Lee said. 'Educating children about religion should be like selling fruit. Teachers can introduce their students to their type of fruit, but they cannot hard-sell. It doesn't matter if you prefer bananas or apples, fruit is good for your health. If a student doesn't like 'fruit', that is OK. Not believing in God is a form of belief too.'