I was so pleased to learn that Victoria has decided to change things in their state schools when it comes to special religious instruction (SRI). I’m really hopeful that the rest of the country follows suit.

In a nutshell, the Andrews government is taking the weekly religious instruction class out of class time and moving it to lunch time, before school or after school. At the same time they are introducing classes in respectful relationships.


Religion and I.

I don’t have a religion. I’m perfectly happy with with that. Religion and I are simply not friends. If you have a religion, we can totally still be friends. I rarely actually discuss religion with religious people. If I’m asked, I’ll happily discuss my thoughts on it- but I don’t feel the need to give these views out unsolicited, if you know what I mean. This is primarily because I understand that a religious person’s faith is important to them, even if I don’t feel the same. That does not mean I think religion is above criticism- far from it. I just don’t think criticising individuals achieves anything, unless your goal is to really tick someone off. I also doubt that anything I have to say will change someone’s spiritual views or beliefs.

Religion & Parenting.

Some people choose to raise their children within a religion. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say I don’t agree with doing that. I know it’s kind of in the rule book that you bring your children up believing in your god for many religions. I get that. But I do not agree with it. However, I also freely acknowledge the fact that my agreement is not required. No one has to please me with their parenting choices and there are any number of other ones I don’t agree with. Let’s be honest- we’ve all encountered parenting choices that others make that we disagree with- from religion to sleep training to toddler leashes to co-sleeping. No matter what choices we make in raising our kids, someone will disagree with us and that’s okay.

Our Experience.

I was unceremoniously booted out of scripture class for too many pesky questions as a kid. Consequently, my personal view of in-school religious education isn’t all that great. As the mother of a “non-scripture” kid, I’m also not a huge fan of specific religious instruction classes in schools. My eldest spent half an hour a week doing bugger all in primary school as she wasn’t allowed to do any school work- and instead did nothing of any actual educational benefit. The much discussed ethics classes were never introduced at her school despite my asking about them- I was told the only way we’d get them was if I trained up and taught them, which I’d have loved to do but simply couldn’t afford to commit to. Worst of all- my daughter was often made to sit in specific religion classes anyway. Apparently not one teacher was available to supervise the non-religious kids for half an hour a week. Instead, she was often made to sit in the back of the room while the religious lesson went on. From what I understand, this practice isn’t all that uncommon and it’s really not cool. Imagine your kid’s class was going to watch a movie you didn’t approve of or want them exposed to so the school’s answer was to sit your kid in the back of the class and tell them not to watch. Same deal.

Why I Don’t Want Specialised Religion Classes in Schools.

In Victoria alone, SRI was running on an opt-in basis and only about 20% of students had opted in. Meaning the vast majority had opted out. It doesn’t seem fair to me that 80% of students twiddle their thumbs for half an hour each week while 20% get their religious instruction. I’m not sure on the stats for the rest of the country, however, even if 90% opted in, I’d still feel the same. This is because I truly feel we need to embrace the fact that we are a secular nation. Religion is a personal choice. If parents wish to give their child a religious education, that is their personal decision. I don’t think any child should be missing out on learning time to accommodate the specific religious instruction of some children. I much prefer the idea of all children receiving a General Religious Education- where children are taught about many different religions and their associated cultures as opposed to being instructed in a specific one. I think one of the keys to minimising cultural intolerance and discrimination is education. When you remove ignorance, you often remove fear and hatred.

What Victoria is Doing.

In 2016, the SRI classes will no longer take up actual class time. Instead, there will be a focus on world histories, faiths, cultures and ethics. That sounds so much more inclusive, valuable and interesting for all students. As previously mentioned, the specific religion instruction classes are still to be offered before school, after school or during breaks. The main opposition I have read on this proposal came from the opposition Education Minister, Nick Wakeling, who said:

“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…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.”

I have to say, that’s pretty over the top- chaos? Really? I would think that if the new class times aren’t convenient for parents, they could simply opt-out and organise religious instruction for their children themselves, outside of school hours. If only 20% of students are currently opting in for religious instruction, I don’t think this new plan is a result of an ideological whim of the Premier but rather a reflection of the needs and wants of the majority while still offering options to the minority. That’s my take, anyway.

Respectful Relationships Education.

The other thing that Victoria is doing is something even more important than the religious instruction debate, to my mind. They are rolling out Respectful Relationship classes for all students from Prep through to year 10. This follows a pilot of the program that ran in 30 Victorian schools and is basically about teaching kids about gender stereotyping, healthy relationships and discrimination, among other things, to help prevent violence. In NSW, this kind of education is also set to roll out next year, for students in years 7-10, through their Personal Development, Health and Physical Education course. I believe this is another area where education may well be the key to preventing something that is epidemic in our society- intimate partner and domestic violence and violence against women in general, with a reported 58 women dead by violence in Australia this year alone. I can only hope the rest of the country does something along the same lines, and soon.

Got 30 seconds? Join Rosie Batty’s Never Alone campaign and ask your state’s education minister to ensure kids receive this all-important education to help stop domestic violence.


#IBOT @ Essentially Jess.

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