Spirituality Education

In New Zealand up to 50% of Primary Schools have some form of ‘Bible in Schools’ for which there are mixed reports about:

In the year 2000, I did my Masters thesis looking at spirituality in NZ State Education (http://mro.massey.ac.nz/handle/10179/6489) and my impression is that not much has changed since. What I called for, along with many others like Prof’s Morris and Geering, is multi-belief education, similar to what they have been doing in England for a long time.

What is often not understood is that values education is very widespread in NZ primary and early secondary school teaching. Almost all primary schools highlight their values at a Board of Trustee level and usually in the classroom with some form of values education. Health education is compulsory to Year 10, and while it varies considerably in hours, content and expertise, there is some values education going on there. But when it is probably most important, from years 11 – 13, when young people are exploring ideas, beliefs, ideologies, and so on, there is no consistent approach.

This blog post was inspired by an editorial I just read that argues an overemphasis on subjects like Maths and English underplays spiritual and emotional education and subsequent student development. And that this situation, happening all over the world, particularly  impacts negatively those most vulnerable, thereby further embedding a cycle of poverty and ennui. Here in their words:

A prominent aspect of children’s spiritual nurture is family support. Parents and

grandparents provide affirmation, promote relationality, model ethical decision-making

and travel with children on a journey of self-discovery and self-awareness. If children are

systematically deprived of influential family members from an early age, they become

even more dependent on educators, religious leaders and social service providers to fill

the void. School systems that elevate language and mathematical skill development to the

exclusion of creative arts and character development or valorise individual achievement in

lieu of collaborative opportunities provide little space for spirituality education. Religious

education that is dogmatic or limited to the conveyance of information about religious

traditions rather than open and responsive to spiritual questioning and questing, is

unhelpful as well. Organisations that provide general and mental health coverage, nutrition

supplements and other social support provide essential services and yet may fail to address

spiritual well-being because they are focused on preventative care for body and mind and

unaware of damage being done to the soul (spirit).

(Yust, K.-M., J. Watson and B. Hyde (2017). “The spiritual challenges of the ‘cradle to prison pipeline’.” International Journal of Children’s Spirituality: 1-3.)

I’d like to affirm all those primary schools doing a great job with values education, but call for another look at multi-belief-faith education across primary and secondary schools in NZ.



3 thoughts on “Spirituality Education

  1. Hi Richard,
    The sad thing is that 18 years after your thesis, we still do not have any genuine academic teaching about religion in primary schools while religious indoctrination goes unchallenged by anyone in a position to change it. My own efforts to raise awareness have been met with stubborn resistance to any attempt to make an issue of it.
    – The NZEI haven’t reviewed it in 30 years and deny their members consider it a problem (no they haven’t asked them).
    – The NZSTA refuse to answer any questions about why they suggested changes to further entrench religious instruction instead of removing it.
    – The MOE simply do not want to deal with it, even though they have legal advice that it is discriminatory.
    – ERO don’t even review it as it is extra-curricular.
    – The Human Rights Commission avoid commenting on it at any cost and seem to stymie any action against it with inaction.
    I’ve created a website to provide more information on the issue to anyone who might be interested – https://religiouseducation.co.nz
    Dave Smyth.

      • Yes I have. The subtitle of the thesis, “Let’s talk about something else”, says it all!

        My latest action has seen the Advertising Standards Authority refuse to rule against the CEC’s misleading use of “religious education” instead of “religious instruction”. It’s completely wrong but they didn’t uphold my complaint.

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