RELIGIOUS education in state schools must be replaced by a multifaith version that includes different ethical traditions and be taught by trained teachers rather than volunteers, says a new network of academics.
The Religions, Ethics and Education Network Australia has written to Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu, New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell and the respective education ministers seeking an urgent review of religious education so changes can be included in the new national curriculum.
The letter is signed by academics Gary Bouma (also an Anglican priest) and Anna Halafoff from Monash University and Cathy Byrne and Marion Maddox from Macquarie University.
According to the group, the current model (volunteers teaching about Christianity) is exclusivist and at odds with government aims to promote social inclusion. This model, which reaches about half the children in state schools, is becoming controversial, and three parents have complained to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission that it is discriminatory.
”The problem with SRI (special religious instruction, the current program) is that it’s not education about religions but education into a particular religion,” Dr Halafoff said yesterday.
”We are living in a multifaith society, and religion is playing a broader role, so we need to encourage religious literacy.”
She said ignorance about religions could lead to prejudice, while narrow religious messages could heighten social tensions.
Religions for Peace chairman Professor Des Cahill said the interfaith group would support a review. ”Half an hour a week by volunteers is far from perfect, but it’s better than nothing. [The subject] would fit in with the civics and citizenship subject being mooted as part of the national curriculum,” he said.
Dr Halafoff said minority religions do offer education, and Victoria had Baha’i, Jewish and Greek Orthodox programs, but children still got only one perspective.
Dr Halafoff said Access Ministries, Victoria’s main provider, was wrong to claim objections to the existing model came from only humanists; diverse faith and cultural groups objected, as well as some academics.
Source: The Age