Teaching about religions in New Zealand schools has been a priority concern expressed by the annual national Religious Leaders Forum hosted by the Religious Diversity Centre the past three years. The Religious Leaders are agreed that increased understanding of a wide range of religious practices and beliefs would ultimately lead to a decrease in incidences of religiously based harassment and abuse.
The Forum set up a workgroup to take the initiative forward. The group monitored the review of the Social Studies curriculum with a view to recommending the inclusion of ‘teaching about religions’ in the future. They have followed the review of the NCEA Achievement Standards Levels 1-3 which has reached the stage of a pilot trial of the revised Religious Studies curriculum. Religious Studies is now included as a Scholarship subject in Year 13.
In December 2019 a letter from the 2019 Religious Leaders Forum was sent to the Minister to urge the inclusion of Religious Studies in the formal New Zealand curriculum. And early in 2020 the Cabinet asked the Ministry of Education to work with the Religious Diversity Centre in order to further the discussion about religious education in schools.
The RDC is therefore carrying out a research programme on Religious Studies in other countries, with a view to the introduction of a Treaty-based Religious Studies Years 1-10 curriculum in our schools. And is preparing to respond to the MInister’s request for “New Zealand to have a broader conversation about the place of religion in schools to ensure our education system reflects a modern and diverse New Zealand, a conversation that could inform further advice on ways Religious Studies could be supported in the national curriculum”.
The Religious Diversity Centre is also significantly involved in hosting Leadership Diversity Days where secondary school year 12 students, many of whom have had no contact or involvement with those of different religious and or cultural backgrounds, are able to experience first hand both the positive aspects and the challenges inherent in living with religious diversity. Teachers who have attended the Leadership Diversity Days report very favourably on the outcome of the programme for both students and teachers alike.