SUNS 89 : RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTION IN SCHOOLS
Published in the Suns in April 2015
RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTION: PRO’S AND CON’S
The issue of religious instruction (RI) in government schools is one that comes up from time to time. That has especially been the case in the Territory since the introduction of the Howard Government’s chaplaincy program in 2004. Our Department of Education maintains the following position on RI.
“Religious instruction is a means of delivering spiritual, ethical and pastoral needs to students whose parents choose for their children to participate in such a program.
Religious instruction is not part of the curriculum for Territory schools and provision for religious instruction is therefore a matter for each school to determine in accordance with the department’s Religious Instruction Policy and guidelines.” This position was written in January 2011. The policy allows for five hours of RI each term.
Methodologically, schools supporting RI may elect for the program to operate in each class for 30 minutes each week. Some schools have an RI block for an hour each day during one week of term. Some schools 2900 schools engage the services of a school chaplain. Others have laypeople from various churches or denominations who volunteer their time to undertake RI programs in schools.
RI can raise issues for schools.
* The matter of ‘indoctrination’ comes up from time to time, especially in relation to the chaplaincy issue. People worry about the promotion of a specific religion when the one chaplain is appointed to look after the whole school.
* Should RI offer students a comparative understanding of the various faiths or should it reinforce a particular belief.
* Given the heavy curriculum load confronting schools, a need for five hours each term for RI becomes the question. Can the time be afforded.
* Increasing numbers of parents are electing for their children not to attend religious instruction lessons. These children have to be provided with other activities while the sessions are in progress.
* Duty of care requires a teacher to sit in a supervisory capacity with each class while volunteers are conducting RI lessons. They can be required to step on at times because of control and behavioural issues.
* Religious instruction can become problematic if children begin to tease each other over principles of faith and belief.
An alternative to RI might be devotion of that time to values education. The National Framework for values to be promoted in schools was agreed to and endorsed by all the state and territory Ministers of Education in February 2005.
The Framework recognises the importance of values education. It also recognises that values education in schools draws on a range of philosophies, beliefs and traditions. Espoused values include care and compassion, personal best effort, the need for a fair go and the right too freedom. Other values recognised include honesty and trustworthiness, integrity, respect, responsibility, tolerance and inclusion.
While these characteristics are covered in broad terms, treatment is often incidental. Devoting programmed time to discussion and understanding core community values might be a character developing alternative to religious instruction.