Victoria to scrap religious lessons
An outfit called Access Ministries may have to shut down shop as a result of a decision last week to scrap religious instruction in Victorian schools from next year.
A new relationships education programme, announced by Education Minister, James Merlino, above, will replace religious lessons. It will be taught by qualified teachers to help children understand global cultures and traditions, recognise and prevent family violence, and appreciate and understand diversity.
Not surprisingly, Access Ministries is mortified. Rob Ward, a spokesman the organisation – the main provider of special religious instruction in Victoria – claimed that his organisation had not been consulted by the government, and he was disappointed by the decision.
It’s hastily made and poorly advised. Nobody has seen this new curriculum as yet, and I’m not sure how a primary school teacher will teach well and capably the basic beliefs of the five major religions.
Access Ministries was already losing its grip on schools when the announcement was made. According to this report, Lara Wood, above, head of Fairness for Religions in Schools, a parent-led campaign against religious instruction by Access Ministries, said:
At our last count 50 schools have chosen to cease the program due to lack of interest. It’s very significant.
In 2011, religious instructors were present in 70 per cent of public primary schools in Victoria. By August of last year they were less than half.
Access’s CEO, Dawn Penney, insisted that evangelism is not the point of the classes.
No, we do not proselytise; it is not something we promote. It is clearly in our training that it is not the way that we wish Access Ministries to be seen in the school.
Really? In 2008, Access’s then CEO Evonne Paddison, addressing an evangelical conference, praised the work of Access and said:
Then earlier last year the group was embroiled in a scandal when one of their instructors handed out copies of a booklet called The Biblezine.
It preached against safe sex and said homosexuality was a sin. The Victorian Department of Education investigated, and concluded that the incident was in breach of policy.
Then one of Access’s very own, George Aslanis, quit his position as an Access Ministries teacher, saying he believed its classes were inappropriate.
I didn’t see it different to a Sunday school encounter – similar sort of format, a bit of play, some songs some fun activity, some drawing in, some Q and A, and ultimately, where possible, just putting a seed there, just hoping that it would grow one day to mature into a fruit.
Merlino said about 20 percent of primary school students took part in religious instruction, while the remaining students occupied themselves with other activities, such as reading.
You can’t have 20 percent of school kids undertaking special religious education, while the other children are not getting teaching or learning, during precious curriculum time. I understand that some people are going to be upset by this decision, but it’s the right thing to do.
Fairness for Religions in Schools said the move was overdue. Lara Wood said her organisation received feedback from parents concerned about religious instruction nearly every day.
These parents are angry that their kids are losing four days’ worth of school time each year for a very small minority of students.
Kids who do take part in the program are being told they will go to hell if they don’t believe in God, and we had a report of one child last year being locked in a closet while taking part in religious education.
Merlino is so courageous in making this decision, because there will be a backlash from a small section of the religious right, but he’s done the perfect thing.