'Let’s see if the kids who don’t do Scripture in school need help'

When given the choice, 71 per cent of parents opt in to voluntary scripture lessons in NSW primary schools, but there’s a real need for a survey to find out what happens for the other children.

Children who do not attend scripture or ethics classes use their time in supervised “Alternative Meaningful Activities” defined by the Department of Education as reading, private study, or completing homework. Critics of SRE suggest this is wasted time for students, an argument the CEO of Christian SRE Murray Norman says should be investigated.

“We need to find out if homework, revision or reading provides meaningful activities for those children,” Norman told Eternity. 

The last survey was in 2015 as part of a broad review of Special Religious Education (SRE) and Special Ethics Education (SEE) by consultants ARTD for the Education Department. SRE is the NSW name for volunteer-taught religion classes in school time also known as RI religious instruction in Queensland and SRI in Victoria.

A new survey would help scripture providers engage with school principals, teachers and other stakeholders in improving SRE, Norman told Eternity.

“We want to make sure that any real concerns or difficulties in making sure there is meaningful activity for children not doing SRE are addressed.”

SRE/RI, which also provides options for other religions to participate, contributes to a “thick multiculturalism” according to a recent study by Professor Zehavit Gross from Bar-Ilan University Israel (where she is the UNESCO Chair in Education for Human Values, Tolerance and Peace) and Professor Emerita Suzanne Rutland from the University of Sydney. They found that SRE “strengthens students culture” and “creates a ‘safe place’ in the face of racism and prejudice.” While teaching the tenets of each faith, SRE courses teach students to respect those who are different from themselves. In the case of Christianity this flows from the second part of Jesus’ summary of the law – to love God and to love your neighbour as yourself.