EDUCATION MATTERS: The Science of Learning at the Service of Evangelisation

By Dr Gerard Gaskin, Executive Director of Catholic Education Tasmania

The application of the Science of Learning in the vital mission of religious education (RE) is anything but an experimental fad. It offers a welcome relief from jaded 1960’s “life experience” approaches that promoted good will and kindness without the necessary underpinning Christian ethic.

As a pedagogical theory it is elegantly simple. It employs known human cognitive architecture. It is based squarely on genuine scientifically proven neurological evidence.

Hence it faithfully follows the God-given sensory, neural and learning pathways that our Creator ingrained into the physiology of the human brain.

It is built on a highly respected educational philosophy, one that deserves to be embraced wholeheartedly in our evangelising mission.

The true end of learning is the accumulation and retention of knowledge and understanding about God and his plan for us – and for it to shape our lives.

Our students need the practical virtue that is necessary if they are to function fully in society. Once acquired, the skills of rational analysis enable the student to think, reason and problem-solve life’s challenges creatively and to develop a well-formed conscience.

Religious education founded on the Science of Learning express truth, goodness and beauty, and leads our students towards prayer and sacramental life.

The Science of Learning relies on high and healthy levels of teacher activity and student movement, rather than passive receptivity. It gives renewed energy to the teaching and learning dynamic and to the joy of sharing the Catholic Faith.

Religion lessons, animated by the teacher’s personal vocation to evangelisation, create an enabling and supportive environment.

In this way, the sensory-cognitive exchange between teacher and student, motivated by the theological virtue of Charity, is kept in acute focus.

The on-going exchange of faith is constantly reviewed, constantly moderated and constantly verified –often on a minute-by-minute basis. Growing in faith and prayer is at the front and centre of this pedagogy.

Cognitive science encourages the teaching of even the most complex of ideas by “chunking” them into small digestible pieces.

This is very applicable in RE. In the same way that we feed an infant their food in small digestible amounts, so too as teachers, we can “chunk” the content of religious education and formation into “bite sized” pieces.

Dealing with complex matters (such as the History of Salvation) by working through a logical sequence of small historical/biblical events in God’s relationship with humanity enables the student to assemble these into a larger conceptual framework that sees the human condition as a constant seeking for God – and its realisation in the Catholic Faith well-lived.

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