Lessons in God a touchy subject in schools

PRINCIPALS in the south-west are supporting God’s place in the classroom as debate fires up over whether primary school students are being indoctrinated. 

Figures across the state show fewer government schools are offering religious instruction,  but enrolments into classes are still strong at south-west schools. 

However, school leaders have highlighted varying and unregulated religious curriculums, which can range from teaching Christian religion to secular-based teaching of all faiths. 

Mortlake P-12 College principal Graeme Good said the “majority” of the school’s 160 primary pupils were enrolled in religious instruction run by Access Ministries. 

“It’s not a heavy-handed program with a focus on religion, it’s more about relationships and personal development,” Mr Good said. 

“It’s not an issue here. It’s just accepted. Most of our students would do it but it’s not compulsory.” 

Religious education at Warrnambool Primary School isn’t as straightforward as traditional classes. 

Principal Peter Auchettl said the half-hour class held fortnightly focused on all faiths. 

“It’s meant to be secular so it focuses on all religions,” Mr Auchettl said. 

“Ninety-nine per cent (of students) would do it, but some have opted out.” 

Mr Auchettl said some schools weren’t given a choice on whether to run classes.

“It’s mandated by the department so schools that can offer it have to,” he said.

“If we are going to live in a tolerant society then children need to be as informed as possible.

“The majority of people in Warrnambool would follow some form of Christianity.” 

Parents generally favour the lessons. 

“When you sit down and explain to them that it’s secular ... they say “that’s a good idea,” Mr Auchettl said. He said the curriculum taught by a local church group wasn’t “value based”, meaning no faith was taught over another. 

Up to 85 per cent of pupils between prep and year 4 at Camperdown College are enrolled in religious education. 

Principal Cherie Kilpatrick said the curriculum “was centred closely around Christian principles”. 

Port Fairy Consolidated School principal Mark Chapman said his school was unable to offer classes because of a lack of interest and volunteers.

“In 18 months I’ve probably had one person ask about it,” Mr Chapman said. 

“We can’t offer it because we don’t have the volunteers.” 

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