Asmal reintroduces school spirituality

The religion and education policy launched on Tuesday is aimed at reintroducing spirituality into schools, Education Minister Kader Asmal said.

At present, religion is being handled in a haphazard way with a lack of seriousness, he told reporters in Cape Town and Pretoria.

"The policy is neither negative nor hostile towards any religion or faith and does not discriminate against anyone," Asmal says in the foreword to the document.

"Rather it displays a profound respect towards religious faith and affirms the importance of the study of religion and religious observances."

The policy distinguishes between the education, instruction and observance of religion.

Education regarding different faiths has already been approved as part of the curriculum, said Duncan Hindle, Deputy Director General of Education.

The policy describes religious instruction as aiming to develop adherence to a particular faith.

"Clearly we can't have that as part of a ... school programme," Hindle said. Schools would, however, be encouraged to make their facilities and time available for religious instruction, with equal opportunities for different groups, he said.

The policy mentions a number of ways in which multireligious schools can handle religious observances.

These include separating children according to their beliefs and having separate observances. Opportunities of observance could also be rotated in proportion to the representation of different religions in the school.

Texts from various religions could be read at a single observance.

A universal prayer -- where a deity but not a specific one is addressed -- could be held, or else a period of silence could be held so each pupil could have his or her own observance, the document proposes.

Hindle said it would be up to the school governing body to decide how to handle the matter, but parents could hold these bodies accountable in terms of the policy.