A growing number of Victorian primary school principals are ignoring the legislative requirement that they provide students with an hour of religious instruction a week. The Victorian Education Minister says the law was passed in 2006 with bipartisan support but he is confident principals will make the best decision for their school.
Listen to the interview at ABC site HERE. Below is the transcript of the conversation as per ABC site:
ELEANOR HALL: To Victoria now, where school principals are calling on the State’s Education Department to drop the requirement for religious education in schools.
As with some other states, Victorian primary schools are obliged to offer “special religious instruction”, provided approved instructors are available. But a growing number of school principals is ignoring that requirement because of concerns about the quality of instruction on offer.
In Melbourne, Samantha Donovan reports.
SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Joe Kelly has been the principal of Cranbourne South Primary School in Melbourne’s outer south-east for 15 years. He says after years of complying with the requirement that his school offer religious instruction he recently changed his mind.
JOE KELLY: I was blindly accepting and approving these activities in my school until I started taking a closer look at the material and an even closer look at the actual sessions that the volunteers were conducting.
I concluded that the material and the associated teachers and teaching methods simply do not reach the standard of quality educational practise that this school requires.
SAMANTHA DONOVAN: The people I believe offering the classes aren’t qualified teachers?
JOE KELLY: No, they’re not. They undertake, I believe, up to six hours of initial training. They’re usually, from the best of my knowledge, volunteers from the local church group…
SAMANTHA DONOVAN: What was it about the materials that bothered you?
JOE KELLY: The most significant part is that my own school is nationally, and even internationally, recognised for its work that we do with cooperative learning. This is where we’re expecting and asking and giving children to work together very cooperatively in a very respectful manner to question, to ask, to analyse, to solve problems.
The Access Ministry material and religious instruction, by virtue of definition, is simply counterproductive to that. It presents material in a very dogmatic manner.
SAMANTHA DONOVAN: The system, I understand, in Victoria has changed, in that now parents can opt in to the classes, whereas previously it was an opt-out system. Doesn’t that give parents more of an option?
JOE KELLY: Yes, it does and it doesn’t. It was very clear at this school that parents were very confused about what actually was on offer.
Quite a number of them thought the course was a study of religion, a comparative religious course – which I have no objection to.
But the course is not that – it is one, it is a course of instruction in Christian dogma, and there are children that attend this program because parents, for a whole range of reasons, either don’t understand exactly what it is, I’ve spoken to some parents who have their children going because they don’t want them sitting out in the corridors doing nothing for that period of time. I’ve had other parents say, look, my husband’s Indian, we have our own religion, but I don’t want my son to look different or to be out of sync with the rest of the class.
So there’s a very dysfunctional element about the whole management of it.
SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Do you think the law in Victoria should be changed in relation to these classes?
JOE KELLY: Yes, absolutely. The section of the act should be repealed that allows religious instruction in our schools. We really should be putting an emphasis on teaching children the history of religion and comparative religions. We certainly don’t need this device of intrusion into our great public school system.
SAMANTHA DONOVAN: The Victorian Education Minister Martin Dixon says the legislation to introduce special religious instruction in schools was passed in 2006 with bipartisan support.
But it seems he isn’t too concerned if school principals decide not to offer the program. Mr Dixon told The World Today he has full confidence in school principals making decisions in the interests of parents and the school community.
ELEANOR HALL: Samantha Donovan.