zaterdag, februari 20, 2016

Schools drop religious instruction after government changes ban teaching during class time


The Age 

Dozens of Victorian schools have abandoned religious instruction after the state government moved the controversial program out of regular class time.

Lobby group Fairness in Religions in Schools said at least 55 schools had axed the program this year following changes introduced by the Andrews government, which they support.

The state's largest provider of special religious instruction, Access Ministries, said they expected the figure would rise.

In August, the Andrews government announced that special religious instruction would be axed from the Victorian curriculum and replaced with respectful relationship, global cultures, ethics and faith education.

The 30-minute religion classes can now only be delivered during lunchtime or before or after school.

Access Ministries spokesman Rob Ward said "bureaucratic obstacles" had made it challenging for some schools to continue offering the program.

Teachers must give up their lunch break, start work early, or stay back at school to supervise the classes, he said.

"We are very disappointed that the government made this decision. We don't think it is in the best interests of children," Mr Ward said.

He said Access Ministries had made its program more interactive to attract students during lunchtime.

"It is still about the principles and beliefs of the Christian faith, but it is more physical. There's craft work."

Fairness in Religions spokeswoman Lara Wood said schools had ditched the program because it was unpopular and had created a lot of extra work for teachers. 

She said religious instruction had no place in secular state schools. "If parents want this program they can easily send their children to church for Sunday school."

Kew MP Tim Smith raised concerns about the Andrews government's changes to the program at a public accounts and estimates hearing on Friday.

The Liberal MP said that while schools should be secular, SRI gave children an important understanding of faiths and different religions.

"We don't want people to be proselytising in school, but we do want students to have a knowledge of all religions."

SRI providers have battled to keep primary school students in the program after the state government changed its policy in 2011, requiring parents to opt in to the classes. In 2015, 374 schools offered the program, down from 603 the previous year.

A spokesman for Education Minister James Merlino said the changes struck the balance between between ensuring SRI was available when there was demand and resources, and giving students more time to focus on the curriculum.

"Principals are responsible for decision making around SRI and must carefully consider the level of parental demand for SRI, the circumstances of their school and the views of the school community," he said.

Greythorn Primary School in North Balwyn recently wrote to parents and told them that after "careful consideration" it had become apparent that the school was unable to offer SRI.

United Jewish Education Board president Yossi Goldfarb​ said his organisation was running the program in 15 schools this year, down from 38 schools the previous year.

"Our community is not entirely happy with these changes," he said.

"It is extremely difficult to offer these classes at lunchtime because kids need a break, and a bit of fresh air. Trying to maintain their interest when their friends are playing outside is difficult."

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