ALMATY (Reuters) -- Religion will be a compulsory subject in Kazakh schools starting from this year, the Central Asian state's Science and Education Ministry has said.
School courses on religion are a thorny issue in the former Soviet Union, where atheism was a state ideology and many people oppose what they see as the growing influence of the clergy.
Neighboring Russia announced a pilot project last month where students will be given a choice between classes in their own religion, a comparative course on religion or secular classes on ethics.
"The religion course, previously voluntary, will become compulsory from this year on for all school students," a ministry spokeswoman quoted its senior official, Serik Irsalievas, as saying.
"We think that the basics of religious tolerance should be formed at a young age."
The courses would be taught by specially trained teachers and will cover "all religions and their history," the spokeswoman said.
"This is not aimed at raising [religious] fanatics," she said.
Mostly Muslim Kazakhstan has a large Christian minority, mostly belonging to the Russian Orthodox Church.