Cabinet mulls proposal to have kids study religious teachings on Sundays amid calls to outlaw private tutors
A group of Sunday School teachers in Colombo Archdiocese receive training in this 2017 file photo. (ucanews.com photo)
Sri Lanka is awaiting cabinet approval of a proposal to make Sunday school education compulsory for students aged 6-19 of all religions after the Christian Affairs Ministry sought feedback from Catholic priests about the idea earlier.
Father Piyal Janaka Fernando, institute director of the National Catechetical, Educational and Biblical Center, forwarded their feedback to the government. Officials reportedly approached the priests based on their experience but plan to make Sunday lessons mandatory for Buddhists, Catholics, Hindus and students of other faiths, too.
The issue was proposed in 2017 by Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith and chief Buddhist monks in the wake of a series of demonstrations against extra-curricular school-related teaching on Sundays.
Cardinal Ranjith even wrote to Sri Lanka's president urging that tutorial classes be banned on Sundays from 6am to 2pm so they do not interfere with religious instruction.
Many private tutors work at weekends focusing on secular studies as this can result in a lucrative side income given the intensifying competition for the national school qualifying exams each year.
The Catholic Church has 1,155 Sunday schools, over 13,000 teachers and nearly 202,000 students in 12 dioceses across the country.
A cabinet paper will be submitted at an as-yet-undecided date to the ministers in charge of all religions to implement a six-day study week with a focus on religious teaching on Sundays, said Buddhist Affairs Minister Gamini Jayawickrema Perera.
He made the remarks while addressing a meeting in the North Western Provincial capital of Kurunegala on March 29.
The move is aimed at installing more discipline in young people, he added.
Children who attend a Sunday School at St. Joseph Church in Grandpass, Colombo receive the Sacrament of Confirmation in this 2012 file photo. (ucanews.com photo)
The government should give extra marks to students who attend Sunday school, Father Fernando suggested.
"The marks obtained from Sunday school exams, as well as a student's attendance record, should all be taken into consideration later when they apply for jobs or placements at institutions of higher education," he said.
"The government should ban tutorial classes on Sundays and on 'Poya' days and encourage children to attend Sunday schools," he added.
Poya days are public holidays. They usually coincide with a full moon, meaning the dates change each year, and commemorate key events in Buddhism.
Father Fernando said all students should be forced to take Sunday school final exams to give them a more rounded education.
"The government should encourage mass media to organize special programs for Sunday schools," he said.
"Those who successfully complete their [Bauddha] Dharmacharya examination should also be recruited as teachers at government schools," he told ucanews.com, referring to a Buddhist studies degree awarded by state-run universities.
Father Fernando said the Catholic Commission for Catechetics and Bible Apostolate submitted a document to the Ministry of Christian Affairs in late March with all of the requirements for this.
His commission also requested the government establish separate libraries stocked with religious books at all parishes.
It asked that standard Sunday school textbooks be printed nationwide to establish a common curriculum.
When Cardinal Ranjith called for the ban on tutorial classes, the argument he shared with other religious leaders was that these were detrimental to a child's spiritual education as they preclude enrollment at Sunday school.
Ayoma Nirudhi, a Sunday school teacher in Colombo, applauded the move and hailed it as a productive way to promote higher attendance levels.
"The current attendance rate as Sunday schools is unsatisfactory as many kids have tutorial classes on Sundays and public holidays," she said.
"Sunday schools install discipline in young adults. This is good for the country and it strengthens their commitment to the Christian faith," she said.
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