Victorian schools will scrap special religious instruction from class time, with changes to the state’s curriculum throwing the future of the controversial program in doubt.
The Andrews government has ordered that the weekly 30 minute program move to lunchtime and before and after school in 2016 to make way for new content on world histories, cultures, faiths and ethics.
Classes that address domestic violence and respectful relationships will also become compulsory for all prep to year 10 students from 2016.
The state government said students were missing out on essential learning while SRI took place.
“Extracurricular programs should not interfere with class time when teachers and students should be focused on the core curriculum,” the government said in a statement.
The decision to axe SRI from the curriculum has been met with fierce opposition by chaplaincy organisation Access Ministries, the main provider of religious instruction.
The organisation’s chief executive, Dawn Penney, said the government failed to consult SRI providers and nearly 30,000 Victorian parents about its decision.
Ms Penney was seeking “urgent discussions” with Education Minister James Merlino on Thursday about the changes, which could deter families from the program.
“The decision contradicts a clear statement made prior to the last state election that the government would support SRI.”
Mr Merlino said qualified teachers would deliver the new faith and ethics content.
“This new content helps all school students, regardless of their background or faith, to understand the world around them and the ideas and values that shape that world,” he said.
Lara Wood, a spokeswoman for Fairness in Religions in School, a group that has spent the past four years campaigning against SRI, claimed victory. “We won, we got what we wanted.”
She said religious instruction providers were proselytising in primary schools while students missed out on learning.
Australian Education Union Victorian president Meredith Peace, another opponent of SRI, welcomed the announcement, saying state schools should be secular.
“We didn’t believe SRI was consistent with that.”
She said students who did not opt in to the SRI lessons were sent to the library or sat in corridors.
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 rather than “opt out”.
Enrolments fell from 92,808 Victorian students in 2013 to 53,361 – a 42 per cent plunge.
The inclusion of respectful relationships education into the curriculum coincides with the Royal Commission into Family Violence.
It follows a pilot that ran in 30 Victorian schools, and will focus on challenging attitudes and behaviours that can lead to violence against women.
Prevention of Family Violence Minister Fiona Richardson said that new focus on respectful relationships in schools would help address gender stereotypes and discrimination.
“Respectful relationships education is key to combating prejudice and preventing violence – we’re including it in the curriculum so that every Victorian school teaches students these important skills and content.”
Domestic Violence Victoria chief executive Fiona McCormack applauded the government for incorporating domestic violence prevention into the curriculum.
“The time has come, we’ve got to start intervening earlier, and educating children at a young age about respectful relationships,” she said.
But opposition education spokesman Nick Wakeling said Premier Daniel Andrews has broken a pre-election promise about SRI, creating chaos for parents.
“This decision by Daniel Andrews will create chaos for thousands of parents whose children will be forced to attend these classes out of school hours.” he said.
“Parents in schools across Victoria will face the prospect of juggling new and varied after-school hours pick-ups just to suit the ideological whims of Daniel Andrews.”
VIC GOVERNMENT’S BACKFLIP ON SRI LEAVES PARENTS IN THE COLD
The Australian Christian Lobby today appealed to the Andrew’s government to reconsider the decision to scrap Special Religious Instruction (SRI).
ACL Victorian Director Dan Flynn highlighted the clear contradiction of an Andrew’s Government pre-election indication that the party would retain the program at the last election.
“SRI remains popular with almost 30,000 school students volunteering to participate, yet none were consulted over these changes. There is no evidence that students or parents have changed their minds.
“This was a tried and tested program that helped children find moral bearings and better understand the rich Judeo-Christian cultural heritage upon which Western democracies are built.”
Mr Flynn called on the government to release details of the proposed “healthy relationships classes” before forcing them upon school children.
“Parents have a right to know what ideology is going to be taught in these classes. Lack of consultation over curriculum is a serious matter.
“There is emerging anger in other States about the deceptively named Safe Schools program which the Andrews’ government promised to make compulsory in Victorian high schools.
“The program instructs teachers to integrate sexual diversity in all subjects, with some results that would concern most parents.”
Mr Flynn called on the Victorian government to be transparent with voters to restore broken trust.
“The government needs to reinstate SRI and speak to parents. That is the honourable thing to do” said Mr Flynn.
AEU WELCOMES MOVE TO END SPECIAL RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTION
21 August 2015
AEU Victoria welcomes the Andrews Government’s announcement today that it will remove religious instruction from the Victorian public education curriculum.
President Meredith Peace said religious instruction during class time was at odds with Victoria’s secular education system.
“We welcome the Government’s move to introduce new curriculum that teaches students about respectful relationships, different cultures and ethics,” Peace said.
“Public schools have an important role in teaching students about world histories, cultures, and ethics, but it should be delivered as part of an objective curriculum and be taught by a qualified teacher.
“If religious instruction is to be provided to students, it is a sensible move by the Government to stipulate it must occur before or after school or during lunchtimes, rather than during normal class time.
“Public education is secular. Parents can choose to have their child educated in line with the tenets of their faith and send them to a faith-based school. The delivery of religious instruction, focused on one particular faith in Victorian public school classrooms, does not reflect the multi-faith society that we live in.
“We also welcome the Government’s announcement today to fund respectful relationships education that will challenge negative attitudes that lead to violence against women. This is one preventative step in a range of initiatives that must be taken up by both the State and Federal Governments to address the family violence epidemic.”
SOME THOUGHTS FROM MODE OF LIFE REGARDING THE AEU’S STANCE TOWARDS SRI
The AEU’s stance regarding the removal of SRI from public schools is not surprising given that it has a particular ideology and ethos that tends to be left-leaning, and promotes itself as an advocate for various civil rights movements that have no relation whatsoever to teaching, the teaching profession, or working conditions for teachers. And as part and parcel with that ethos, it has always sought to promote this notion of a secular “civil religious ideology” whose foundations have always been very unclear as to how they will form sound citizens of the future together with a tenuous notion of the rule of law.
When confronted upon such a topic by one of the AEU’s representatives to answer a series of surveys, I asked the representative as to why the AEU:
- Takes a negative stance towards non-public schools
- Pushes governments to pay more money into public schools which are already better funded by taxpayers money than private schools, and wasting much of that funding or rorting it, causing worse outcomes for teachers and students. (An example I can recall, is a certain school which received funding for its building project and improving working conditions and salaries for teachers. Instead of spending the allocated taxpayer money for these purposes, the school which was very close to the AEU, only bought portable classrooms and deposited the money in its bank account, while not paying the teachers their due. Ironically that same day when they received the money, they went on the national news services crying poor that the government of the time, which was not left-wing, did not pay them any money whatsoever. And this was amongst many public schools that collaborated with the AEU’s campaign to stonewall the government at the time, and thus give the AEU credibility in its imbecilic efforts).
- Positive stance and allies themselves to the Labor party, rather than being an independent advocate for teachers and the teaching profession.
- Hostile stance towards non-left wing political parties and governments, which creates antagonism that is counterproductive towards the interests of teachers and their interests.
- Does not make any serious or concrete efforts towards cultural and religious education within public schools given the multicultural nature of Australian society or the globalized nature of modern economics.
- Compels its members to adopt certain stances in political orientation, despite such a concern being one of personal conviction and belief.
- Involves itself in other issues which also pertain to a personal nature such as supporting gay rights.
I asked these and many more questions regarding AEU policy, to which the representative took exception to me even asking, let alone my request for accountability in explaining the AEU’s position towards teachers, their professional standards and working conditions.
Nevertheless, my feedback clearly emphasized that it is not the union’s purpose to focus on advocating gay rights or any other sort of perceived civil rights movements, or to promote or be against religious instruction, nor to be pro-left or pro-right. But rather, the focus is and must be upon the teaching profession and its industry, to encourage the professional standards and conduct of teachers, as well as ensuring proper systems in place for that to occur in schools.
I highlighted that the efforts, which now have become a reality, in denying children access to cultural and religious education is not only an affront to the so-called “freedoms” we have in Australia; but it produces future citizens who are completely socio-culturally unattuned to the world around them which is a grave error in a globalised community and economy. To which it tends to produce close-minded people as a consequence, as it stunts peoples’ right to grow and develop organically in every respect, as the human person is not solely a set of logical propositions or ideologies. Nor is any person entirely governed or grounded by logic, but encompasses the senses, the heart, the nous and much more. (And if, anyone comes down with dementia that takes away their reason, it does not mean they cease being a person with a particular and unique identity.)
The recognition of the human person as a unity of body, soul and mind with all their various constituent parts, emphasises that growth and development of any person, especially in education, requires balance by containing cultural, vocational, sociological, religious and artistic elements within education. This consideration highlights that the AEU’s current ideology treads very heavily upon those things which are a person’s personal choice, as we all have a God-given and in principle, a legal right to exercise. And the exercise of that right neither makes a person less or more before anyone else, nor is it a point for their denigration. As to whether we exercise that free-will responsibly or soundly, relates to another question though.
In saying all that, we should cite that religious education is treated much in the same vein as the teaching of foreign languages in Australia. Only lip service is given to both, and thus we have people who are not only religiously or culturally unattuned, but incapable of communicating with others in their respective languages. The sum of Australia’s “multi-culturalism” seems to be going to different restaurants that offer differing and foreign cuisines, and nothing more. A complete waste of human capital and culture which can enrich and develop Australia’s own identity and resources in general. Maybe it is here that the AEU needs to concentrate its efforts if they wish to affect social outcomes….