School and Religions
Schooling in Ukraine is free and open to all citizens indiscriminately. Compulsory schooling ranges from 6 to 17 years of age, but a reform is underway that will gradually increase it by one year.
98% of compulsory education is public.
In Ukraine, the Church and religious organisations are separate from the State. By virtue of this principle, the Ukrainian Constitution, approved in 1996, explicitly states, in Article 35, that schools must be separate from the Church.
Private and religious schools are free to organise their own school curricula, but they are not recognised by the state and do not receive any public subsidies.
Subject name and place in the school curriculum
Following Order No. 437 of 26 July 2005 “On the study of optional courses in Ethics of Faith and Religious Studies”, issued by the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, it is possible to set up, within State schools, optional courses of a denominational type (e.g. Fundamentals of Christian Ethics, etc.) organised by the institutions of the various religions in the area. Such courses may be substituted for secular ethics or taken together with it.
The syllabuses and textbooks of these courses must be approved by a special commission attached to the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine for ethical issues.
For more information
Ukrainian Constitution: http://biblioteka.sejm.gov.pl/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Ukraina_ang_010117.pdf
Ukrainian education system: https://theewc.org/resources/school-education-in-ukraine/ ; https://refugee-ed.sqe.gov.ua/for-governments/ ; https://emergency.mon.gov.ua/educationalsystem/#tab-4
On state-religion relations in Ukraine: https://classic.iclrs.org/content/blurb/files/Ukraine.1.pdf ; https://www.state.gov/reports/2021-report-on-international-religious-freedom/ukraine/ ; https://khpg.org/en/1151768398
On current issues related to denominational teaching in schools: https://history.sspu.edu.ua/images/2021/11/26/_9_2021_-tmns_elektronne_vidannya.pdf#page=18
By Federica Candido and Sara Giorgetti
Teaching Religions in Schools
The Constitution of the Russian Federation (1993) proclaims the secular nature of the State and explicitly states: “The Russian Federation is a secular State. No religion may constitute itself as a State or compulsory religion’ (Article 14, paragraph 1)1. Paragraph 2 of the same article further states that: “Religious associations must be independent of the State and are equal before the law”. Although the Communist political and cultural project in the past had strongly influenced the abandonment of traditional religiosity, in favour of atheism, to date, about 64% of Russian citizens identify themselves as Orthodox, 1% belong to other Christian denominations, 6% proclaim themselves Muslim, about 1% are followers of other religions (including Judaism and Buddhism), while 25% define themselves as non-believers2.
Since 2009, following Metropolitan Kirill’s ascension to the patriarchal throne, the Orthodox Church has gained increasing importance and popularity in Russian society.
In the sphere of culture and education, while upholding the inalienable principle of the secularity of the State, progressive interventions have been made in university and school education, aimed at acquiring an education that also includes the study of the sciences of religions. The first educational project relating to training in the field of religion was approved by the Ministry of Education in 1992 and concerned university courses. Confessional and private universities activated degree courses in theology, which generated a debate concerning the content and approach to be given to the new courses3. Since 1999, the three-year degree course has been enriched and supplemented by a master’s degree course. In the autumn of 2013, following the entry into force of the new law on education in the Russian Federation, a significant
1 See https://www.art3.it/Costituzioni/cost%20RUSSA.pdf.
2 O. FILINA, Mapping Russia’s Religious Landscape, https://www.rbth.com/articles/2012/08/30/mapping_russias_religious_landscape_17819.html .
3 D. Shmonin, Theology in Secular and Denominational Universities in Contemporary Russia: Problems and Prospects for the Development of Religious Education, in «Islamic Education in Secular Societies» , Ednan Aslan, Margaret Rausch (eds.), Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, Peter Lang edition, 2013, pp. 237-246.
change also took place in university theological studies: the Russian Ministry of Education and Science approved the new list of university courses, which also entailed state-level recognition of academic degrees in the field of theology. Public and private universities to date have activated degree courses recognised by the State and the Orthodox Church: The Orthodox Theological Academies of Moscow and St. Petersburg, the Orthodox Tsaritsin, the Orthodox Theological Institute of Saint Makaryevsky, the Universities of Omsk, Altai and Nizhny Novgorod etc4. In recent decades, the Islamic religion has also found considerable diffusion within the Russian Federation, and as a result, the Islamic Universities of Moscow, Kazan, Ufa and Nizhny Novgorod were established.
Since 2012, after almost seven decades of atheism, Russia has chosen to reintroduce religious education in State schools on an experimental basis.5 In fact, a compulsory course to be taken in the fourth year of primary school, entitled Fundamentals of Religious Cultures and Secular Ethics (ORKSE)6, has been included. The decree, approved by Putin and endorsed not only by the Moscow Patriarchate but also by the Muslim community, has aroused widespread debate.
The division into modules was aimed to provide in-depth learning of religious cultures. In this framework, pupils (or, their parents) can choose between one of six modules:
1. Fundamentals of Orthodox Culture
2. Fundamentals of Islamic Culture
3. Fundamentals of Buddhist Culture
4. Fundamentals of Jewish Culture
5. Fundamentals of World Religious Cultures
6. Secular Ethics
In accordance with constitutional norms (Articles 13 and 14 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation), as well as the law “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations”, the choice of one of the 6 modules is the exclusive right of parents (legal representatives) of underage students. The ORKSE educational pathway is a single integrated educational system. All its modules must be consistent with each
4 D. Shmonin, Religion ed education in contemporary Russia: the dynamics of recent years, in «Analysis» 2014, pp. 1-10.
5 See http://orkce.apkpro.ru/209.html.
6 See http://arz-skola7.3dn.ru/_ld/2/210_pi08-250.pdf and http://orkce.apkpro.ru/.
other in terms of pedagogical objectives, requirements, and educational content outcomes. The ORKSE course of education is cultural and not theological; therefore, the declared objective is to develop in schoolchildren aged 10-11 the ideal knowledge and moral values that form the basis of the religious and secular traditions of Russian culture. Some analysts maintain that this educational project, established by State law, was strongly desired by Putin to tackle – with the intention of activating a process of re-education and moralisation – a Country, and in particular its peripheries, strongly in crisis, not only economically, but above all humanly and familywise.
This year marks the tenth anniversary of the experimental introduction of the course in Religious Culture and Secular Ethics (ORKSE) in Russian schools. A decade has therefore passed, and it is possible to take stock of the results of the cultural experiment undertaken in 2012, and not yet transformed into permanent teaching.
On the basis of statistics7, it has emerged over the years that “Fundamentals of Secular Ethics” was chosen by 42% of students, “Fundamentals of Orthodox Culture” was chosen by 34% (up from 30% in 2012), “Fundamentals of Religious Cultures” is in third place with 17% (18% in 2012), “Fundamentals of Islamic Culture” was chosen by 5% of students (down from 9% initially). Modules concerning the study of the fundamentals of Buddhist and Jewish cultures remained at a statistically very low level of less than 1%.
However, public opinion does not seem to particularly like the presence of ethics and religion courses in state schools. The latest survey conducted by the Levada Centre8 showed that the liking of ORKSE courses is declining: the share of those who adhere to the teaching of the basics of religion in school is steadily decreasing, while the percentage of those who believe that “there should be no place for religion in schools” has increased almost twofold in eight and a half years, from 17% in 2013 to 31% in 2021. An attitude of criticism of this teaching is detected above all among those belonging to the 18-24 age group, that is, among those who have had direct experience of this experimental teaching. It also emerges, as noted by the sociologist Lev Gudkov, that 22% of people in favour of the introduction of religious instruction in secondary schools are mainly “provincial, residents of small and medium-sized towns and the rural population. Not very educated, not very rich and, consequently, very traditionalist”. The Orthodox community, in turn, is dissatisfied with the brevity of the course and the lack of integrity in the moral education of the younger generation.
In conclusion, the points on which almost all critics of ORKSE courses agree are twofold: on the one hand, the placement in the school curriculum (between 4th and 5th grade, for a total of 34 hours) and, on the other hand, the educational objectives. In fact, the quality of teaching, according to the teachers themselves, should be improved by other methods: in ten years, short courses have been offered to primary school teachers, but these have not produced any long-term effects.
In principle, it is true that the purpose for which the “Fundamentals of Religious Cultures and Secular Ethics” course was created is in accordance with the Toledo Principles and aims to foster an appropriate understanding of the religious diversity of the contemporary world; however, despite this statement of principle, this teaching has provoked strong criticism from academics and analysts, according to whom this teaching can be divisive and can easily incur dangerous consequences such as confessional indoctrination9
– Constitution of the Russian Federation: http://www.constitution.ru/index.htm
– Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation: https://minobrnauki.gov.ru/
– ORKSE website with school curricula, regulations, and statistics: http://orkce.apkpro.ru/