At present, there is no formal education about religion in secondary schools in the current Ausvels curriculum, although it is slowly emerging as a focus in the Humanities.
Government schools are secular and have been so since 1872 and the Australian Education Act (2006) has precluded instruction in one singular religion in schools.
Consequently, there is antipathy from secular institutions to broach anything to do with religion and spirituality in schools as far as it deals with educating children and young people.
Despite the prohibition of the inculcation into a singular faith or religion in government schools in Victoria, government schools are obligated to cater to a wide audience of students from diverse cultural, socio-economic backgrounds and multi-faith perspectives.
It is now incumbent on teachers to expose students to a variety of ideologies, faiths, traditions and philosophies, yet the extent to which this is taking place points to a serious omission.
One aspect of this education is the focus on the development of young people as holistic learners.
The Melbourne Declaration on Education Goals for Young Australians (2008) declared in its charter that the spiritual component of learning is important in developing young Australians as holistic learners together with their emotions, their moral, social, intellectual and physical development:
"Schools play a vital role in promoting the intellectual, physical, social, emotional, moral, spiritual and aesthetic development of young Australians..." The Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs says in the declaration.
"Schools share this responsibility with students, parents, carers, families, the community, businesses and other education providers."
This document underpins the background and philosophy behind the Australian Curriculum and was developed in Melbourne for Victorian government and non-government schools. The Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs in 2008, established key educational goals to ensure high-quality education for Australian schooling.
From the research across Catholic and Independent schools, together with the Christian Research Association, there has been sufficient devotion to projects geared towards child and adolescent spirituality, because of the significance this investigation poses to the religious and spiritual life of its students in these schools.
This is not the case in state government schools in Victoria, especially when our politicians do not prioritise ‘spirituality’ as a worthwhile pursuit in an already overcrowded curriculum.
Exploring other viable approaches in the classroom may make it possible for spirituality to become a recognisable and worthwhile pursuit.
I am suggesting that spirituality can find a place across the curriculum and not taught as a stand-alone subject.
The focus is not on educating about spirituality but finding avenues where students and teachers explore issues of meaning, understanding existential concerns around hope in a perilous world and the development of one’s worldview.
A new way of evoking spirituality in the classroom
Incorporating spiritual approaches to learning across the curriculum can be achieved through a ‘tethered’ approach, which is the exploration of world view perspectives from the major religions, and one that is ‘untethered’ and more humanistic, focusing on the intrinsic aspect of individuals.
At present in literature, there is scope for students to learn about texts by analysing and interpreting layers of meaning and acquiring an understanding of divergent viewpoints.
In the visual arts, students learn to grapple with a range of ideas that influence the meaning behind art works and learn to develop a repertoire of their own ideas that inspire their own work.
The humanities provides avenues for exploring the belief of ‘ultimate reality’, meaning and purpose and the relationship between what people believe and ultimate reality also from a secular, rationalist perspective.
An important consideration is to understand how educationalists can incorporate both ‘tethered’ and ‘untethered’ approaches in their education of students that take into account their backgrounds and worldviews.
It is anticipated that these approaches gain currency in secular state schools across Victoria, Australia with the implementation of the National Curriculum.
A shift to a more contemplative style of education
An ‘untethered’ approach to education renders itself to a more contemplative style, where students become self-reflective learners cultivating their ‘inner space’.
This is also understood as a ‘way of being’ in education as an intrinsic element to who we are, influencing one’s teaching style and composure in the classroom.
Drawing on the contemplative educational approaches, teachers could develop a greater sense of ‘presence’ by becoming calmer and clearer and relate to students with more intuition, wisdom and compassion and becoming contemplative role models for their students.
The physical environment needs to be conducive to learning and one that is aesthetically pleasing, including spaces for quiet concentration, solitude and social interaction.
Other practical approaches may involve breathing techniques, visualisations, sensory awareness, observing thoughts and relation techniques.
When it comes to cognitive based learning approaches, spiritual contemplation may also involve in depth reflection on existential questions, which are of a philosophical or religious nature.
For teachers to develop their ‘inner lives’, provisions need to be made where they can work together on their personal and spiritual growth and to develop an experiential understanding of what it means to be ‘present’ in the ‘here and now.’
Teachers need to be open to what students are communicating and display a genuine respect for the student and compassion in the way they treat their students.
The curriculum needs to be implemented in such a way as to nourish the student’s sense of purpose and meaning, so it should function in an integrative and holistic manner.
Part of fostering meaning, purpose and hope may also include an appreciation for diversity, the balance between the student’s physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual needs and a high degree of sensitivity expressed to students which takes account of individual differences.