1. The Context of Awakenings

1.1 From the Murray to the Sea

The resources of the Awakenings Religious Education Curriculum are provided to support and enliven learning and teaching in Religious Education throughout the Diocese of   Ballarat. In particular, they are designed for use by religious educators in the Catholic primary schools and secondary colleges located and operated within the diocese.

With its various landscapes and ecological systems, its economies of agriculture, manufacturing and service provision, its communities of indigenous, settlement, post-war and recent Australians, the land of this diocese extends across Western Victoria from the Murray River to the Southern Ocean.

It is in this land, in communities large and small, isolated and yet connected, that Catholic organizations find their place and their mission, sometimes in seasons of growth and sometimes in seasons of decline.

From their first days in this land, Catholics have been involved in schooling.

Well before Ballarat became the focal point of a vast Western Victorian diocese…schools run by Catholic teachers were providing the rudiments of learning to Catholic children. Some of these schools were little more than shacks with dirt floors and hardly enough furniture for the children to sit and write on the handful of slates available. Some were portable, made of canvas or calico, so they could follow the gold-seeking population from one goldfield to another. 

(Blee, 2004, p. 9)

Much has changed since the first Catholic schools were established on the rich soil along the coast, on the goldfields of Central Victoria, and in the irrigation areas of the north. Catholic schools no longer educate the majority of Catholic children, they no longer rely solely on the financial support of Catholic people and the generosity of religious sisters and brothers, and they no longer understand themselves to be the means of advancement for Catholic children in a sometimes hostile society.

Yet Catholic schools are still central to the mission and work of the Catholic Diocese of Ballarat today, and to the life-quality of students and their families. Inspired and governed by the message and person of Jesus Christ, and committed to the physical, intellectual, social and spiritual development of each person, they provide education of the highest quality to their communities. In line with the self-understanding of the Church, they are welcoming to all who share their educational philosophy. Through their distinctive educational style, Catholic schools make an irreplaceable contribution to the intellectual, ethical and spiritual well-being of their own community and of Australian society.

1.2 For us and for our time

Catholic schools are inspired by a distinctive vision and seek to live out a distinctive mission. Although Catholic schools may differ in many ways, they each of them seeks to be a religious school in the Catholic Tradition. To be religious (re-ligare, to re-connect, to bind together) is to live in relationship with all reality, including the transcendent source of reality we name ‘God’. To be religious (re-legere, to re-read, to interpret) also means to see and understand reality through the perspective of this relationship with God, who is made known in the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

A Catholic educational style is attentive to both these dimensions. It articulates and celebrates the bonds of connectedness within all reality, human, non-human and divine, and seeks to engage students and adults in that network of relationships. It also seeks to develop in learners the cognitive, affective and spiritual skills and dispositions needed to experience and interpret their lives as a journey of personal meaning-making and growth toward truth and wholeness.

It is widely recognised that Australian society is undergoing profound and disruptive social, economic and cultural change. Some theorists describe the conditions of today’s context as volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA). These conditions also affect both religious traditions and educational organisations. Catholic communities and Catholic schools face new challenges in realising their distinctive vision and mission in today’s context.

A significant challenge for Catholic schools in Australia today is the presence of a plurality of worldviews and cultural traditions at all levels of society, including among the members of school communities. For some people, their worldview is shaped by a religious faith tradition; for others, their worldview does not include reference to a transcendent reality or God; for still others, a spirituality arising from their indigenous culture or other traditions shapes their worldview and outlook on life. Many Australians live ‘in between’ religious and nonreligious worldviews, neither identifying with particular religious faith traditions nor rejecting all spiritual or transcendent realities. The 2016 Australian Census indicated an increasingly complex plurality of religious traditions and nonreligious affiliations.

It is a fact that today’s society has a multi-cultural make-up, accentuated by globalisation. The overlapping presence of different cultures is a great resource, as long as the encounter between those difference cultures is seen as a source of mutual enrichment…Education contains a central challenge for the future: to allow various cultural expressions to co-exist and to promote dialogue so as to foster a peaceful society. 

(Educating for Intercultural Dialogue in Catholic Schools, 2013)

Recognising these changing conditions in which Catholic communities and Catholic schools operate in Australia, in recent years the Victorian Catholic Education Commission (CECV) has participated in a research project with KU Leuven (Belgium) to develop theoretical and empirical frameworks for Enhancing Catholic School Identity (ECSI). These resources encourage and assist school communities to respond openly and creatively to the plurality of worldviews and cultures within their own ranks and in the broader Australian community. This calls for a renewed understanding of the distinctive vision and mission of Catholic schools. It has implications for the culture and ethos of the school in all its aspects (chapter 2), for the personal worldview and quest for meaningful living of each learner (chapter 3), and for the pedagogical style of religious learning in the curriculum (chapter 4).

The title of this Religious Education Curriculum, Awakenings, attempts to capture the distinctive vision and mission of Catholic schools, and as they embody and relate to the plurality of religious and nonreligious worldviews in Australia today. Awakenings is a way of describing the goal, the content and the method of Catholic schools as religious schools, in the two senses of being religious described above: we are awakened to the relational character of all reality, including transcendent reality or God, and we are awakened by the ‘way of seeing’ that opens up when the our own and others’ worldviews are brought into dialogue with the ‘host tradition’ of the Catholic faith.

The Awakenings Religious Education Curriculum began in a collaborative project of the Dioceses of Ballarat, Sale and Sandhurst, and the Archdiocese of Hobart, undertaken in 2002-2006, to provide resources for leaders and teachers in Catholic schools that address the Catholic ethos of the school community as well as teaching and learning the Religious Education curriculum area. This 2020 revised version of the Awakenings Core Document and Curriculum Framework aims to strengthen the alignment of these resources with the Enhancing Catholic School Identity frameworks and with the Victorian Curriculum Foundation – 10 (VCAA, 2015).

Learning and teaching in Religious Education must respond to changing contexts and circumstances. Awakenings offers an invitation, a structured approach, and an evaluative framework to students, teachers, leaders and governors, so that they might respond creatively to the challenges they face.

The National Catholic Education Commission Religious Education Framing Paper (2017) challenges Catholic schools to respond to the societal, ecclesial and educational contexts in which they operate. These contexts ‘offer challenges and opportunities to Australian Catholic schools as they strive to offer high quality Religious Education that is faithful to the Catholic Tradition and responsive to the circumstances of the students and their families’ (p. 11). 

In consultation with school stakeholders in the Diocese of Ballarat the following trends affecting schools were identified:

Directions in Australian society

  • more connected to and affected by global issues and patterns
  • awareness of the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural identity and character of Australians
  • changes in the structure of work, family, community and social life
  • public awareness of growth in world religions and non-religious affiliation
  • higher levels of wealth with increasing inequalities in some regions.

Changes in the Catholic community

  • decreasing participation by Catholics in regular worship and church-based activities
  • broader range of beliefs and values held by Catholic people
  • greater solidarity with Christians of other traditions, and people of other faiths
  • fewer clergy, religious women and men providing full-time ministry
  • more roles for non-ordained Catholics in pastoral ministry, governance, administration and worship
  • stronger focus on community building and belonging
  • increasing attention and response to effects of the history of child sexual abuse by Church personnel and the priority of creating safe communities for children, young people and vulnerable adults
  • extensive national consultation of Catholics in discerning priorities for the National Plenary Council 2021-2022.

Changes in Catholic schools

  • shift to lay leadership and teaching staff in recent decades 
  • increased focus on the core business of learning and teaching
  • changing governance relationships and structures with dioceses, parishes and religious congregations
  • more students and families with little or no explicit religious participation
  • greater awareness of accountability, standards, and risk management
  • challenges of securing appropriate staff, including Religious Education teachers
  • higher expectations to meet a range of student and family needs
  • some anxiety about the diminishment of Catholic ethos of schools.

Directions in Church statements about Catholic Education

  • centrality of the integral development of the human person and the common good of society
  • identifying the role of the school in the mission of evangelization
  • awakening the religious dimension of all curriculum areas
  • the contribution of Catholic schools to the common good of society and culture
  • the important vocation of teachers in the lives of the young
  • the role of schools in promoting the dialogue of cultures, worldviews and faith traditions in a pluralising world
  • the need to engage critically and creatively with the digital culture of young people.

Directions in the Australian educational context

  • alignment of national curriculum frameworks around knowledge and skills in learning areas, and capabilities aimed at promoting deep understanding
  • renewed emphasis of the personal and relational dynamics creating learning environments
  • intensive and collegial professional development of teachers 
  • extended learning pathways and alternative learning environments for students, especially in the Post- Compulsory Years
  • increasing impact of information, digital and artificial intelligence technologies in all curriculum areas
  • articulation of professional standards of practice for teachers, and increased awareness of ethical responsibilities of professional practice
  • focus on regular and effective reporting to parents and assessment of employability outcomes.

1.3 Guiding Principles

Awakenings Religious Education Curriculum is a response to these contexts. The challenges of contemporary Catholic schooling are seen as an opportunity to enter more deeply into the rich intellectual, ethical and spiritual resources of the Catholic Tradition, and to seek ways to make them available in a respectful dialogue with the world of students and their families, and with Australian society.

The development of the Awakenings resources is guided by the following principles:

  • it recognises that the beginning and the end of the educational process is a unique human person, the learner, who is in relationship with themselves, other persons, culture, the cosmos and, in and through all these, with God
  • its reference point for content is Christian revelation through the sources of Scripture and Tradition, and expressed in the faith of the Catholic Church
  • its reference point for methodology is a pedagogy informed by the dialogical character of evangelization, catechesis and Religious Education; a critical adaptation of Shared Christian Praxis methodology appropriate for the range of religious and nonreligious worldviews of students; and current research on creating rich learning experiences
  • its reference point for curriculum structure is the Victorian Curriculum Foundation – 10, and the progression of learning in knowledge, skills and dispositions in all learning areas and in general capabilities
  • it recognises the essential educational partnership of home, school, parish/local Church, sponsoring religious institute and diocese, and locates classroom-based Religious Education as one significant component in a broader, lifelong religious education mediated by all these groups
  • it explicitly relates education to the formation of moral character and the exercise of virtue in public and personal life, and the promotion of individual and social justice for the sake of the common good.

1.4 Our Core Business

Through broad consultation with parish priests, principals, religious education teachers and leaders throughout the Diocese of Ballarat in the development of the Awakenings Religious Education Curriculum, the following shared understandings about Catholic schools were identified:

WE BELIEVE THAT

  • We need to creatively engage with the context of Catholic Schools today:

    • we acknowledge that our schools are at the intersection of social, cultural, political and religious aspirations and accountabilities
    • we celebrate the rich diversity and shared purpose of our school members and of the local communities they serve
    • we are aware that not all students, families and staff have knowledge and experience of the customs, rituals and beliefs of the Catholic Church
    • we are committed to our schools providing excellent education based on proven research in student learnings, well-being and faith formation
    •  we aim to be inclusive of the faith stances and personal worldview of all members of the community and encourage inquiry and growth in spiritual awareness and faith formation
    • we are confident of the integrity and value of the Catholic faith, and that schools provide a point of contact for many families with the Church
    • we strive to promote spiritual growth for all members of the community through transformative dialogue with all authentic worldviews and spiritualities
    • we are committed to building communities that are safe and happy for students and adults, particularly in the light of the experiences of child sexual abuse in the history of Catholic education in Australia.

  • Religious Education should reflect sound pedagogies and promote a community of lifelong learners:

    • learning experiences in religious education should be designed in the light of evidence of student engagement, progress, and achievement
    • effective religious learning occurs in a multi-correlational approach that deepens learning through dialogue with others
    • religious education should promote a post-critical capacity in understanding and communicating religious texts and traditions
    • religious education should reflect high quality practices in planning, classroom activities, and assessment and reporting procedures
    • we seek to make visible the religious dimension of all curriculum learning areas in the light of the Catholic Tradition
    • we need to model lifelong learning in religious identity and faith formation, integrating cognitive, affective, ethical and spiritual capacities
    • we recognise differentiated, valued learning objectives in religious learning, according to students’ faith stance and level of schooling.

  • Formation and support of teachers is crucial for effective learning in Religious Education:

    • now that the vast majority of teachers in Catholic schools are lay staff, particular effort is needed to provide the formation and support needed for their vital mission
    • teachers need ongoing professional development in content knowledge and effective pedagogies in religious education, building on the CECV Accreditation policies 
    • we need to create communities of professional dialogue for RE teachers, and to provide time and resources to support them
    • print and digital curriculum resources should promote an inquiring and post-critical approach in religious learning
    • Religious Education teachers are challenged to develop skills of witness, specialist and facilitator in dialogical learning to create effective religious education
    • teachers need opportunities and support to explore and deepen their own faith stance and personal worldview in open and non-judgmental dialogue
    • we recognise that teachers’ understanding and expectations of the religious worldviews of students strongly impact student engagement in Religious Education
    • school leaders, including Religious Education curriculum leaders, need formation and support to articulate and model a pedagogy of encounter and dialogue at the heart of Catholic schools.

  • Pedagogy should ‘inform-form-transform’ learners by developing capacities for encounter through dialogue:

    • the levels and learning styles of students should drive our curriculum design, learning strategies and assessment procedures
    • a knowledge-based curriculum of Religious Education, sequenced across the levels and stages of learning, is a central feature of Catholic education
    • pedagogical approaches in Religious Education should promote and develop skills of inquiry, interpersonal relationships, and critical and creative thinking skills
    • Religious Education should fire the imagination and extend the understanding of learners and teachers
    • Religious Education aims to equip Catholic students to participate in the sacramental life and community service of the local and universal Church
    • we aim to develop cognitive, affective, ethical and spiritual capacities of all learners at stage-appropriate levels
    • we strive to engage students’ faith stance and spiritual maturity through prayer and liturgy, meditation and retreat experiences
    • Religious Education aims to integrate religious knowledge with ethical attitudes and practical behaviour for members of Church and society.

References

Blee, Jill. 2009. From the Murray to the Sea. Ballarat, VIC: CEO Ballarat and Indra Publishing.

Congregation for Catholic Education. 2013. Educating to Intercultural Dialogue in Catholic Schools: Living in Harmony for a Civilization of Love. The Holy See. Accessed 28 November 2019.

http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccatheduc/documents/rc_con_ccatheduc_doc_20131028_dialogo-interculturale_en.html

National Catholic Education Commission. 2017b. Religious Education in Australian Catholic Schools.  National Catholic Education Commission. Accessed 25 March 2019. 

https://www.ncec.catholic.edu.au/images/NCEC_Framing_Paper_Religious_Education.pdf

Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority. 2015. The Victorian Curriculum F-10. Revised Curriculum Planning and Reporting Guidelines. Melbourne, VIC: Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority. Accessed 1 July 2020.