Education and Religion: Church History subject draws more criticism over textbook, teaching methods flaws

Although by the Constitution education in Armenia is supposed to be secular, the Church History subject and methods of its teaching are being viewed as a major problem by some experts who say they have arrived at the conclusion after closely examining the textbooks and the teaching process.

Nevertheless, authors of the textbooks insist that the best specialists have been involved in preparing the materials and that they have received no complaints about the course during the 12 years of its application.

The awakening of religious feelings that began in Armenia still in the last years of Soviet rule and continued after Armenia gained independence in 1991 are being used for propaganda of religion at schools by means of the Armenian Church History subject, Satenik Mkrtchyan, a junior researcher at the Institute of Archeology and Ethnography of the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia, argued during a related discussion on Wednesday.

“We should not turn schools into an instrument of presenting subjective religious approaches as knowledge. One should realize that it is a more serious problem and solutions need to be sought for that,” the scholar explained her position, emphasizing that religion should rather be presented to children at schools as part of sciences.

Most of the participants in the discussion focusing on cooperation between the State and the Church in educational institutions expressed their concern over the issue raised by Mkrtchyan, since they insisted that the examination of textbooks and other research had shown that the subject is not as much about religion studies as the propaganda of the Armenian Apostolic Church and its rites.

Experts noted that the history of the Armenian Apostolic Church begins in the third year of teaching, i.e. in the 7th grade, before that it is mainly the Bible, the Armenian Church’s rites and traditions that are presented.

Teacher Armine Davtyan together with two other specialists studied all textbooks, arriving at the conclusion that during the course the study of the history and rites of one religion [Armenian Apostolic] is imposed on all children without taking into account the opinion of their parents.

“Meanwhile, under Armenia’s legislation, it is the parents that decide their children’s creed,” she said.

And Mkrtchyan added that as a result of the introduction of the Church History subject a contradiction had emerged between the theory of creation and natural sciences.

“In Grades 5-6 pupils study the theory of creation. But there is also an answer to the question of where the human race had come from in the textbooks on biology and world history, but these questions are studied by those textbooks at a later age.”

The specialist told of a case when a biology teacher tried to compare the biological approach with the theory of creation. “When the children confronted her, she tried to make a compromise by saying that the body is physical, that is, it can be examined by biologists, while the spirit is for God’s judgment,” said Mkrtchyan.

Meanwhile, co-author of the textbook, deputy director of the National Institute of Education Vardan Ghandilyan stated at the discussion that during the past 12 years they have not received a single written complaint from any citizen or teacher regarding the contents of the textbooks or methods of teaching.

“The course was developed by representatives of all educational institutions on Armenian studies – the Yerevan State University, Matenadaran, the Gevorgian Seminary, the National Institute of Education,” said Ghandilyan, adding that over the course of years numerous teachers teaching the subject have been retrained.

Church History textbooks have been in circulation since 2002, first at selected schools, then gradually, beginning in 2006, they became compulsory in all schools.