Religious education – a new interfaith voice

A new group called the Religions, Ethics and Education Network of Australia (REENA) has emerged to promote a review of the way religion is taught in Australia. This relates to a number of previous posts I have made concerning the teaching of ethics and religion in schools. REENA’s Statement of Principles makes some excellent, and much-needed recommendations to address some of the problems with the current system. One of REENA’s guiding lights is Anna Halafoff of the Federation of Australian Buddhist Councils.

7 thoughts on “Religious education – a new interfaith voice

  1. Didn’t read it thoroughly Bhante…but it looks awesome. I hope they succeed. There’s a real need for an explicit, regular ethics education programme which also informs the lived, daily experiences of both students and staff. There is also a need for the promotion of inter-faith harmony and understanding in schools.

  2. good stuff. We asked for our son to be taken out of scripture in kindy last year (not sure why he was there in the first place as we def didn’t write christian on the enrilment form) two teachers tried to talk me out of withdrawing him but he was being taught some really weird stuff. So this year he was back in scripture for some reason & he wants to stay because the non-scripture hr involves watching the same episode of the smurfs each week . . I was told by the school even if there was a Buddhist available to teach scripture to my children they wouldn’t allow it because there are not enough Buddhists in the school.

    • Dear Heidi,

      Scripture class should be on an opt-in basis, and they have no right to be putting your son in a class that he didn’t enrol for, still less to try to talk you out of withdrawing him. I would suggest making a complaint to the relevant authorities. In addition, I would suggest contacting REENA: the people behind it are interested in precisely this kind of problem and they need the best information they can get.

    • Dear Bhante
      I’ve just read the REENA document & it sounds fantastic, I will definitely get in contact with them.
      My husband is from the UK & he was very surprised at the model of religious education we have here. He cannot understand why children are not talk about a variety of religions in state schools.
      This quote from the REENA statement struck me the most “the exclusive nature of many of these programmes risks exacerbating social problems such as prejudice, racism and religious vilification.”
      This is so true & so wrong that our public education system is doing this! My job is to help university student groups & from my experiences with various Muslim Students’ Associations I believe that the model of religious education we have in NSW is contributing to the alienation & radicalisation of many well-educated, intelligent Muslim youths who feel angry over a percieved oppression of Islam in the West.
      I am very disturbed by the xenophobic attitudes exhibited by some of these young people in their publications (in person they are lovely) as I’m sure many Australians would be. It may sound like a big stretch but I honestly think that we are assisting global terrorist recruitment by the way religion is taught in our schools, adopting REENA’s recommendations would beneficial is so many ways.

    • Hi Heidi,

      Unfortunately there is a vast shortage of Buddhist SRE teachers and demand certainly outweighs supply in New South Wales. I teach Buddhist SRE at two schools and both have been overwhelmingly popular; so much so, we’ve been required to split the classes. Surprisingly only a small handful of the forty or so kids in each class are from a Buddhist background.

      In my opinion, I think the best way to combat the monopoly that the Christian faiths have with SRE is to diversify the options as best as possible. Our school offers Jewish, Christian, Buddhist and ethics classes. It’s encouraging that some of the families I’ve spoken with intend to have their children attend various SRE classes throughout the year to gain an appreciation for the various religious traditions. This seems a great step forward.

      Perhaps it may be useful to attend a P&C meeting to voice your concerns? Furthermore, an expression of interest form for Buddhist (or other faith) SRE classes would also help. It seems rather inadquate to base the lack of interest on assumption rather than putting it out to the school community.

    • Dear Sam
      Thank you for your advice. I think going to a P&C meeting & voicing my concerns about this is a very good idea.
      It doesn’t surprise me that you get a lot of non-Buddhists in your class – a friend of mine whose children attend school in Sydney’s Eastern suburbs has described a similar experience.
      I live in the Western suburbs & I doubt there would be a similar interest in Buddhism from non-Buddhists here, however the fact that Christian SRE is the only faith offered is a major issue with such a high proportion of Islamic families in the area.
      Christian churches, from my observation, seem to be much more organised when it comes to fundraising than say Muslim or Buddhist communities. Actually the Muslims I know do a lot of fundraising but it is probably just that their organisations are not as established. Christian churches often pay teachers to go to schools where the other faiths rely on volunteers.

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