Last Tuesday, Feb. 19, Kyiv Information Day was filled with politics and debates about one of our “eternal and insoluble” social topics — the place of religion in Ukraine’s schools. For more than 10 years this complex and multifaceted problem has been debated in Ukraine by academics, MPs, teachers, bureaucrats, and, last but not least, parents. The only people whose voices have not been heard are pupils, the recipients of teaching, although they too have things to say on this subject.
The school/church debate is of a somewhat abstract nature and has never led to genuine representative statistics or to a nationwide referendum among parents. For this reason, all interested bureaucrats or academics have their own views on the problem. Some believe that most parents favor so-called alternative general educational institutions where basic religion is taught, while others claim that parents are either against or completely indifferent to it.
Meanwhile, no serious nationwide survey has been carried out to date. (Experts maintain that about 30 percent of parents usually want their children to attend schools that offer courses linked to religion. This percentage is observed in Kyiv.) The experience of Western European schools has yet to be thoroughly studied. Furthermore, MPs who have taken part in the debates think this is unnecessary, claiming we will do it by ourselves (apparently by the trial-and-error method).
On Feb. 19, thanks to the efforts of activists, including Liudmyla Fylypovych, director of the Religious Information and Freedom Center of the Ukrainian Association of Religious Researchers; Mykola Novychenko, Deputy Chairman of the State Committee of Ukraine for Nationalities and Religions; Rev. Roman Nebozhuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church’s Bureau for Relations with Governmental Bodies; Rev. Yevstratii, spokesman of the Kyiv Patriarchate; Petro Hanulich, secretary-general of the Ukrainian Organization of Religious Freedom; parliamentarians, clergymen representing different Christian denominations, and school teachers, Kyiv hosted the conference “The Ukrainian Educational Space and the Role of Religious Organizations in its Development: Ideological, Conceptual, and Legal Dimensions.” His Beatitude Lubomyr Husar, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, also took part in the conference.
Below I cite the speakers’ opinions and proposals for teaching Christian religion-related subjects in Ukrainian general education schools (ZOSh). The conference did not discuss Ukrainian citizens who practice Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and other less numerous religions. But it should be noted that most of these believers have solved their religious-educational problems on their own, without help from governmental bodies.
In the opinion of Mykhailo KOSIV, MP, general education schools are the solution to the problem, “because this means that these schools will be teaching religion. Naturally, schools can also have a specific confessional affiliation, but when it comes to the religious education of children, it must be extra-confessional,” he emphasized. “Here teaching can be done by both priests and laymen, who have a profound knowledge of religion.” Kosiv has no doubts about whether priests are familiar with teaching methods as such. He is convinced (on what grounds?) that the number of families that want their children to attend alternative schools will increase once these kinds of schools begin appearing in Ukraine.
Volodymyr MARUSHCHENKO, MP, holds the same view. Moreover, he thinks that the Ukrainian state should grant religious organizations the right to establish general educational institutions. “The question of reforming the educational system makes it urgent to conceptually reconsider the very approaches to the assessment of the state and development of education in Ukraine. After all, in spite of repeated attempts to legislatively remove differences in the laws ‘On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations’ and ‘On Education,’ Ukraine still does not have a law that would give parents the right to choose their children’s education.”
In Marushchenko’s opinion, society, and that includes the educational authorities, sometimes shows a lack of understanding of the specific aspects of this problem. As a result, alternative education, an important segment of which is educational facilities founded by religious organizations, is still not part of the national models for reforming the educational system. “It is very important for me as a father to know where my children will study and what set of values they will be receiving,” Marushchenko said.
Mykola NOVACHENKO reminded those present that the problem of children’s upbringing began to be discussed at various official levels from 1997, after the creation of the All-Ukrainian Ecumenical Council of Churches. Much water has flowed under the bridge since that time, and many roundtable debates and conferences have been held and wise words spoken, but the problem remains almost unchanged. In any case, Ukraine is poorly prepared for the teaching of religious subjects: there are no commonly accepted and well-tested manuals or curricula backed by scholarship — they are either obsolete or have never been formulated.
The institution that has achieved by far the greatest success is the Lviv-based Higher School of Theology (Lviv Theological Academy), which employs a considerable corps of Ph.D.s and has reached Western levels. It has even managed to win acclaim at home: Ukraine’s National Academy of Sciences will soon recognize its degrees.
As for individual churches, most of them are not prepared to provide teaching for children in lay or confessional schools, although they are authorized to do so. But this right should be complemented by a number of factors and a high level of teachers’ specialist training. As a rule, churches are not prepared to shoulder the entire burden of religious education.
Rev. Roman NEBOZHUK, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church’s Bureau for Relations with Governmental Bodies, reminded the audience that parents are the primary educators of their children, which the law also confirms. So it is parents who have the duty and the right to choose the variety of a complete public school education for their children.
Lilia HRYNEVYCH, chief of the General Directorate of Education and Science at the Kyiv Municipal Administration, emphasized that the spiritual education of children is a very important problem today because spirituality greatly depends on the education they are receiving. In Kyiv, parents of children attending grades one to four can choose a course called “The Path of Goodness,” which is not based on any specific confession and which can be studied by all children, irrespective of their faith. Everyone should know religion as a part of history. But conflicts are rife today, and here everything depends on parents, who also need to be educated, especially young ones, because they interpret such things as spiritual values in their own way.
(Kyiv has 520 schools, including 44 private ones. Most private ones are barely surviving because they have to rent their premises and the land their schools occupy. In grades one to four in state-run schools, 30 percent of children study Christian ethics in Ukrainian literature at the request of parents. An experimental interconfessional manual has been developed for this course, but not all of the academics involved approve of this manual.)
Archbishop Lubomyr HUSAR, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, reminded those present that many people live in difficult, even extreme, conditions: army recruits in the army, chronically ill patients in hospitals, and convicts in prisons. These people need a special form of spiritual contact, assistance, and, last but not least, special education. This is also our task because they all have the right to expectations and attention. Here, the Church is supposed to do what parents do under normal conditions, and thus help the state. This applies to all people and all churches.
Meanwhile, ordinary schools use their own patterns that are germane to different religions. But the truth is the same for all religions. So, one must guard against the possibility that the emergence of confessional schools does not lead to interreligious conflicts among children. But even curricula can incite and set children against “others.” Such elements should be removed and expressly forbidden. One should always remember that schoolchildren are often against “others,” but that is not their fault but their teachers’. We should not ignore the enmity among children of different faiths and denominations: this must be eliminated through education, and primarily by personal example.
I also think that Christian Ethics should promote Ukrainian culture, not religion: this is basically a non-religious subject, without prayers or church songs. I think all confessional accents should be banned here. Neither should the religious subject of Catechism — a set of rules and practices of faith — be taught in state-run secular schools or be part of the school curriculum. @FF D:\www\7\7-5-2.TIF