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Religion basics may be taught in Russian schools from 2012

November 07, 2011, 21:11 UTC+3

“The experiment to introduce the subject in school curricula on the president’s instructions was to last three years and will end in the middle of next year,” minister...

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MOSCOW, November 7 (Itar-Tass) —— Education and Science Minister Andrei Fursenko said religion basics might be taught in all Russian schools from 2012.

“The experiment to introduce the subject in school curricula on the president’s instructions was to last three years and will end in the middle of next year,” the minister said at an online conference on Monday, November 7. “During this time we have created a big framework, we are working with teachers and I think that in principle this subject can be introduced practically in all regions of Russia from next year.”

It remains to be seen how exactly it will be done. “It can be introduced on a broader or narrower scale, but I am absolutely confident that it will not be introduced by force in all schools,” Fursenko said, adding, “Some regions are ready to accept it in full, but some are not”.

President Dmitry Medvedev said the basics of religious culture might be taught in Russian schools on a larger scale.

However he said that this should be done with the consent of schoolchildren's parents and probably in pilot regions where this model can be tested before it is extended to other schools.

By making the decision to teach the basics of religious culture in school, “we did not violate anything but created additional opportunities”, Medvedev said.

Religion will be taught in Russian schools but not mandatorily and will cover not only Orthodoxy, but also other faiths, he said earlier.

Schoolchildren will be free to choose whether to study history and the basics of culture of one of the traditional religions in Russia - Orthodoxy, Islam, Buddhism or Judaism - or their general history. Finally, the children and their parents who flatly reject all forms of religious education will be offered a subject called “The Basics of Secular Ethics”. Only secular teachers will teach these subjects.

The president emphasised that “the choice made by schoolchildren and their parents should be solely voluntary”, but they will have to choose one of three subjects anyway.

Analysts recall that the Russian Orthodox Church has long insisted that the “Basics of Orthodoxy” be taught in Russian schools compulsorily, while Imams from the very beginning advocated the study of different confessions. So, although official representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church welcomed the president's decision, it can hardly be considered to be their indisputable victory.

Medvedev placed a special emphasis on the voluntariness of the schoolchildren's choice. “Any coercion or pressure in these matters will be absolutely unacceptable and counterproductive,” the head of state stressed and authorised an experiment to introduce “Spiritual and Moral Education” in the school curriculum.

The experiment began in 18 regions in 2010. If it proves successful, this practice will be extended to the rest of the country to cover 256,000 children. It is expected that the basics of religions will be taught to 4th and 5th graders (i.e. children aged 10-11) two times a week.

“Spiritual and Moral Education” may become a nationwide subject in 2012, if the state complies with all the parameters of the experiment, which the Vremya Novostei newspaper says “seem to be simply utopian today”. For example, it has been proposed that even if only one pupil chooses to study the basics of Islam or Buddhism, he will be provided with a teacher to work with him individually.

Fursenko admitted that the introduction of the new subject in the school curriculum would cost dearly. According to his estimates, about 40,000 teachers will have to be retrained, which will require hundreds of millions of roubles.

The initiative has been supported by the clergy, and many politicians and public figures, although some of them fear that this will result in the Church's interference in the state affairs.

Like the president, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia stressed the voluntary nature of the new subject. “A captive is not a pilgrim,” the patriarch recalled a saying. “Experience shows that only voluntary perception of ideas, such as religious ideas, can be useful for people,” Kirill said, adding that those who had forced children to study the law of God in tsarist times sawed the crosses off churches under Bolsheviks.

Russia's chief Mufti Ravil Gainutdin noted that the president's decision does not infringe upon “the rights of atheists” as it allows only “secular teachers” to teach religious culture.

Russia's chief rabbi Berl Lazar seems to be concerned most of all with “the problems of Xenophobia and extremism”, which should be solved by “teaching children to understand religious culture correctly”. He believes that the situation where schoolchildren will be able to learn about the culture of many confessions is “optimum”.

According to Kommersant, first deputy chairman of the Communist Party' s Central Committee Ivan Melnikov fears that priests will replace secular teachers over time. “We are against the interference of the Church in the activities of society,” he said.

Orthodox priest Mikhail Ardov said that the president's proposal is just the “Kremlin dreaming”. “As for the teaching of these subjects in school, this is just the Kremlin dreaming. Who will teach it, what textbooks will be used, and who will write them?” he asked.

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