High school students have mixed feelings about Ontario's mandatory World Religions course

By  Vanessa Bertone, The Catholic Register
  • December 22, 2006
TORONTO - Instead of reflecting on the tradition of a Hindu marriage ceremony, Grade 11 World Religion students at Bishop Allen Academy in Toronto reflect on the question: "Why do I have to take this course?"

"I don't see the point of learning about other religions," said Monika Ustupski, 16, voicing an opinion shared by some of her classmates.

While many students think that World Religions is just wasted space on their timetable, they do have to take it for a reason which is not, as some students seem to believe, getting extra sleep.

The course outline states that taking this class helps to "break down misconceptions and prejudices regarding the other religious traditions."

In a World Religions class, students learn the about the history, founders, rituals, practices and beliefs of the world's five major religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam and Christianity, as well as several smaller religious movements.     

The Ontario Conference of Catholic  Bishops sets the guidelines for the religion courses. These guidelines were used to create the courses more than 20 years ago, according to Ralph Peter, Religious Education and Family Life Co-ordinator at the Toronto Catholic District School Board.

Catholic school students must take at least four religion courses during their high school years. Other religion courses taken by students, according to the Institute for Catholic Education, include Be With Me, Called to Journey in Grade 9, Christ and Culture in Grade 10  and either Church and Culture: Creating a Christian Lifestyle or Philosophy: Questions and Theories in Grade 12.  

In Grades 9 and 10, the religion courses outline what characterizes a Christian life and discuss the relationship between Christ and the attitudes of culture. In Grades 11 and 12, however, students begin to learn about the other major religious groups and about living life as a mature Catholic as well as various philosophical ideals and how to apply them to their lives.

Students won't be in a Catholic school forever, and they will eventually be exposed to different religions, said Sandra Arduini, a Bishop Allen religion teacher.

"When you study different faiths, you discover parallels between them. It reaffirms your faith."

Students at Bishop Allen, however,  had mixed reactions, ranging from not taking the course seriously to believing it will be beneficial in the long run.

"I like World Religions because you learn about different cultures, meaning you're not just learning about what you believe in. You see how others view God," said Gabriella Tokarska, 16.

"Personally, I can't change how I feel about certain religions. (Taking this course) makes me aware of the other religions, but not enough to change my opinion," said Antisa Penava, 16.

"(Students) think of World Religions as an easy 80, so they don't take it seriously,"  said Jonathan da Costa, 16.

Kristof Zuchowski, 16, thinks that the effectiveness of the course depends on the person. "(The course) is only good if kids are receptive."

According to Arduini, students who enjoy politics and learning about world issues are sure to take an interest, since studying world religions involves learning about the political and spiritual aspects of a situation, not only the names and dates. She said that the benefits of taking this course will become evident later on in life.

"I actually learned something in this class, because it is based on stories, not textbook facts," said Tokarska.

Zuchowski adds: "Even though I have mixed views about World Religions as a class, I give it credit for at least trying to produce individuals with a broader perspective. Understanding these religions is the first step to accepting them, which is especially important in a country like Canada." 

(Bertone, 16, is a Grade 11 student at Bishop Allen Academy in Toronto.)

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