These changes have sparked discussion and even scandals on social media and among parents. Opponents of innovations ask to leave the subject optional, they say, religious disciplines are superfluous at school, and the load is already big without them. The Ministry of Education and Science replies that moral courses are not about religion, but about ethics.
We will tell you what subjects are offered to study for schoolchildren, what is the alternative and what kind of arguments the Ministry of Education uses.
What is this subject?
The Ministry of Education and Science approved a model curriculum for grades 5-9 of the New Ukrainian School (NUS) and submitted it to the government for approval. It is assumed that the curriculum will operate as early as September 1, 2022.
In this regard, the Ministry has included the Ethics/Morality Courses in the compulsory curriculum. This means that it is envisaged to study one of the subjects in the list "Ethics. Courses of moral and ethical direction", "Culture of good neighborliness" or another course of moral direction. You can also explore these issues as part of an integrated course on Health, Safety, and Welfare.
Further, schools will be able to model this subject themselves at their own discretion. Here are the subject options included in the same Ethics/Moral Course that caused the scandal:
- Foundations of Christian Ethics;
- Christian ethics in Ukrainian culture;
- Bible stories and Christian ethics;
- School of Marriage;
- Orthodox culture of Slobozhanshchyna.
Schoolchildren are offered the following textbooks and manuals: Spiritual Family, Biblical History and Christian Ethics (textbook), Foundations of Christian Ethics (textbook), Dear Faith, Hope, Love (textbook), Fathers and Children (study guide), Peace, harmony and joint work (study guide), Moral and life indicators (study guide).
"Fundamentals of Christian Ethics" for the 10th grade contains a lesson on "Problems and Threats of the Modern Family", which include "the threat of same-sex cohabitation."
In the program for the 11th grade, serious religious topics are considered: "Foundations of the philosophical and theological Christian tradition" (they talk about concepts such as theism, deism, pantheism), "The moral foundations of the monotheistic religions of the world" (students should talk about the moral doctrines of Judaism, Islam and explain their essence).
Until now, "Christian Ethics" was optional, it could be abandoned. Such a subject is already taught in the regions of Western Ukraine, in general, courses of the spiritual and moral direction are taught in 5279 schools.
Now there will be no opportunity to refuse the item. The ministry tried to reassure the parents, they say, "Christian ethics" is not a religious discipline at all, but "morality."
"Within the framework of this course, ethical issues are studied, which, one might say, have been tested over the years, centuries. For example, this is the ethics of family relations or the ethics of communication between adolescents," said Yuriy Kononenko, head of the Main Department of School Education of the Ministry of Education.
The representatives of the "SOS Parents" NGO drew attention to the project of the Ministry when they saw already approved textbooks for the subject "Courses of Moral Direction" in the electronic register.
Parents are against, they say, this will discriminate against children of other religions.
"Such courses raise many norms of local legislation, and first of all this is a matter of the Constitution, and Article 24, which guarantees citizens constitutional rights and freedoms and guarantees that all citizens of Ukraine are equal, despite the signs of race, political or religious beliefs. And the question of faith is this is a personal matter of the child, and it is impossible to introduce courses in secondary education institutions because someone will be discriminated against,” said Olena Parfioniova, co-chair of Parents of SOS.
According to Art. 24, citizens of one religion cannot have privileges over citizens of another, and in accordance with article 35, the school must be separated from the church.
“Meanwhile, the ministry continues to pretend that there is no Christian ethics course in the invariant part of the model educational program. Perhaps an appeal to the European partners of the Ministry of Education and Science with an explanation of the situation regarding outright discrimination and lies will cool the minister's rhetoric a little,” Parfioniova wrote.
In addition, they claim to increase the load on students. At the end of January, educational ombudsman Serhiy Horbachov even suggested not submitting this project for approval due to the workload.
If a child will not attend such a subject, for example, for religious reasons, the question arises of what to do at this time. Or will he have to wait 45 minutes in the corridor, in the dining room, or on the street, where no one can guarantee safety?
Ministry of Education's response
The department argues that when studying a subject it is not about religion, and "Christian ethics" will not become mandatory.
Education Minister Serhiy Shkarlet says schools will be able to independently choose teaching options. Moreover, the minister called the news about the obligatory teaching of Christian ethics a fake. He noted that a model educational program is still being discussed.
"We have discipline Ethics, it is indicated in the model educational program. A teacher, based on a program or a school, can form various versions of this ethics. The school will itself form the program," says Shkarlet.
Even if the school chooses a compulsory subject, there is no need to worry, they calm down in the department. The subject should be more perceived as religious and ethical.
As for the load, the Ministry of Health replied that it would not be increased. To do this, set the permissible total number of hours of a weekly load of students.
With a 5-day school week, here is the number of school hours:
for 5th grade students - 28 hours a week;
for 6th grade students - 31 hours per week;
for 7th grade students - 32 hours a week;
for 8th grade students - 33 hours a week;
for 9th grade students - 33 hours a week.
Chairman of the Committee on Education, Science and Innovation Serhiy Babak said that the Ministry of Education will not interfere, and the decision to introduce the subject "Fundamentals of Christian Ethics" will be made at the level of local communities and schools.
"Our position is non-interference, the decision to introduce Christian ethics is exclusively at the level of autonomy of schools. If a school wants to introduce this subject and the community needs it, let it introduce it, if it doesn’t want it, it doesn’t introduce it. I do not see any problems," Babak explained.
According to him, the issue of introducing Christian ethics has been on the agenda for a year and a half, and all this time the Ministry has been receiving many letters from regional councils and local governments with two opposite theses. Some want the introduction of this subject, these are mostly the western regions, others, the South and the East, on the contrary, are categorically against it.