ALLANSFORD and District Primary School is breaking new ground by announcing it is scrapping its religious program. It won’t be the last.
Under new state government requirements, schools running the Special Religious Instruction classes have to seek consent from parents, asking if they want their child to participate. Previously parents had to sign a form to opt out of the program.
The subtle shift from opt out to opt in resulted in just 18 children, or 16 per cent, of pupils at Allansford being given permission to participate in the program when term three begins next week, leaving the school with little choice.
Our society places a heavy emphasis on individual freedoms, including choice, even on controversial subjects like religious education. It is right parents are given a say.
But in an era where parents are generally more in touch with their children’s education, are the days of religious instruction classes in state schools about to come to an end?
Under the opt-in approach, parents these days value time spent on essential skills like literacy and numeracy more than religious education. These views are against a backdrop of reports of declining education standards.
Those who grew up in an era where religious education classes were virtually compulsory will argue the lessons broadened their education, especially if they weren’t from Christian families. The classes helped foster tolerance and understanding of Christianity, a key plank of Australian society’s foundations.
The opt-in approach opens the door for a broader argument. If the classes were not just about Christianity but included other beliefs like Buddhism, Islamic and Jewish teachings, would the response from parents be any different?
While the numbers of people attending church services are declining, it is important children have a basic understanding of beliefs not just in Australia but around the world.
Like most things, isn’t education about exposing children to ideas and letting them make up their own mind?