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BELLINZONA – While the students are counting the hours that separate them from the summer holidays, there is great excitement among the insiders in view of September when, on the school desks, a new discipline will land: the history of religions. After receiving the go-ahead from the Grand Council in May 2018 after a gestation that lasted 16 years and characterized by sudden braking, heated discussions and many twists and turns, the teaching of the history of religions is ready to become reality. In particular, as Tiziana Zaninelli, head of the Middle School Section, explains to us, from September fourth grade students will follow, for one hour a week, an non-denominational course in the history of religions instead of the current optional hour of religion. The subject, which will have a final note, will not be taken into account for the average.
Between traditions and current affairs
The compromise – defined by several historical parties – was reached in 2017 when the Government and the Churches signed an agreement to introduce the new subject in the time grid. But how will the lessons develop? If more details are revealed today, Wednesday, in the run-up to the traditional press conference in view of the closure of the school year, we can already anticipate that “the idea is to work by subject. We must consider that the new discipline aims first of all to provide knowledge about religious phenomena and to propose reflections on the historical roots and contemporary realities of the context in which adolescents live,” says our interlocutor. During the lessons the students will be accompanied to the discovery of religious traditions and practices in order to “better understand the contemporary world, characterized by the often conflictual coexistence of different existential orientations. The critical study of religion – says Zaninelli – is important to learn to live in society, develop a personality, understand the meaning of fundamental freedoms and differences of religion in respect of democratic values of the rule of law.
A year as “special supervised”.
The key role will be played by the teachers – about twenty selected from the public competition – who will have to be prepared to face three major challenges, as stated in the document prepared by the special working group. First of all, the teaching of the history of religions must be “imparted starting from a scientific vision of the religious phenomenon read in a cultural key”. In principle, the approach “will therefore be based on a comparison between religious and existential orientations linked to the presence on the territory and the experience of the student”. And if respect for freedom of belief and conscience is to be the basis of the new subject, teachers will have to keep in mind that “within a class, some students already know a descriptive approach to religion, for example because they have attended courses on their own confession. Others will be confronted for the first time with this way of describing, analysing and interpreting religious phenomena. This heterogeneity will have to be managed carefully”. For these reasons, the first year will act as a “special supervisor” to “understand how the students will react and if we will have to recalibrate some aspects”, continues Zaninelli who specifies that “as far as teachers are concerned, the competition published was for a job of one year. In 2020 we will republish the competition again, since our goal is to have teachers inside the premises. For the moment, the institutes will be able to count on one or more teachers according to the number of classes”, while in the future DECS is considering with the DFA creating a specific qualification for this subject. Pending the start of the lessons, DECS will meet the teachers on Monday in order to present them with the curriculum.
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