Federal Minister for Education Dr Brendan Nelson recently announced the setting up of a national inquiry into the way reading is being taught in Australian primary schools.
The child-centred approach, which has held sway for the past 30 years, has come under increasing criticism for contributing to widespread illiteracy, with as many as one-third of today's secondary school students unable to read or write at an acceptable level.
A similar situation prevails in mathematics, history and geography.
Perhaps the Catholic Church should take a leaf out of Dr Nelson's book, with the launching of its own national inquiry into the religious literacy and practice levels among Catholics and how any deficiencies might be remedied.
The best available research (notably that of Br Marcellin Flynn) highlights the failure of the 1970s child-centred, experiential catechetical methods that even today remain in favour in some Church circles.
With less than five per cent of Catholic school-leavers at weekly Mass, the Church's crisis is of far greater magnitude than the State's.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church has been available for over ten years, but its effective utilisation has been very uneven, aside from the new RE texts currently used in Melbourne, Sydney and a few other dioceses. And while knowledge of the faith does not guarantee practice, it is a good start.
The approach to RE needs to be national, rather than merely diocese by diocese. A unified initiative from the Bishops' Conference is urgently needed to overcome the entrenched outdated habits of thinking still prevailing.
Time is running out, with the continued greying of the Mass-attending population. Moreover, even among those who do attend, there is much ignorance of Catholic moral teachings, sacramental requirements and liturgy. An open and thorough inquiry, to which all sections of the Church are invited to contribute, may help clarify how the present disastrous and worsening situation can be effectively addressed.
- Michael Gilchrist, Editor, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org