Keep God out of public schools, says Mangena

South African schools are home to many faiths and all of them must be respected, writes Edwin Naidu

Thou shalt not use public schools to preach about any particular faith, but rather about respect and the need for celebrating South Africa’s diversity as a nation.

This was Deputy Minister of Education Mosibudi Mangena’s message to the Students Christian Union annual conference in Klerkdorp in North West province.

He told students that public schools were responsible for teaching about religion in a manner that is in tune with democratic values.
Mangena said the educational responsibility of public schools lies only in the teaching about religions. This, he said, was different from the religious instruction provided by the home, family and religious community.

“The teaching of the canons of a particular faith should and must remain the primary responsibility of the family and the religious community,” he said.

Mangena said religion could play a significant role in preserving the country’s heritage, respecting diversity and building a future based on solid values. “We are also mindful that the public education system is home to learners from a range of beliefs and is thus constitutionally charged to respect these various beliefs. The public schooling system cannot promote one belief at the expense of any other. It needs to ensure that knowledge and understanding of the various beliefs is shared with the learners.”

To achieve these goals, Mangena said religion in education must be guided by the following principles:

- The manifestation of religion in public schools must flow directly from core constitutional values of common citizenship, human rights, equality, freedom from discrimination, and freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion.

- The public school has a responsibility to teach about religions in ways that are different from the religious instruction provided by the home, family and religious community.

- Religion education is a learning programme for teaching and learning about religions and religious diversity in this country and the world.

- Learning about religions and religious diversity serves important educational outcomes identified in Curriculum 2005.

- Teaching about religions and religious diversity needs to be facilitated by trained professional educators.

- Programmes in religion education must be developed with the necessary depth and scope, and be supported by appropriate teaching materials and assessment criteria.

- Religion education must contribute to creating an integrated school community that affirms unity in diversity.

“We believe in a policy for religion in education that does not promote any particular religious interests but actively advances the educational goals of understanding religion and religions, respecting diversity and providing access to sources of moral values,” Mangena said.

Within the constitutional framework, he said, public schools have a calling to promote core values of a democratic society.

“As identified in the report on Values in Education, these core values include equity, tolerance, multilingualism, openness, accountability and social honour. A policy on religion in education must be consistent with these values,” the deputy minister added. Mangena said that although over 60% of the population are Christians, South Africa is home to a variety of religions.

“With a deep and enduring African religious heritage, this is a country that embraces all the major world religions. Each of these religions is a diverse category, encompassing many different understandings of religious life. At the same time, our people draw their understanding of the world, ethical principles and human values from sources independent of religious institutions. In the most profound matters of life orientation, therefore, diversity is a fact of our national life,” he said.

A Department of Education policy document on religion is expected to be released before the end of the year.

- The Teacher/M&Media, Johannesburg, August 2001.

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