Special religious instruction (SRI) in Victoria is continuing in a new lunchtime format in a small number of schools.

The programme had been axed from curriculum time in 2015, thanks to a relentless campaign to remove religion from public schools. But almost 100 schools and 3000 children are taking part in the new lunchtime programme, according to the main provider of SRI in Victoria, Access Ministries.

“Despite claims of the death of SRI, they’ve been overstated. It’s not dead.”

Rob Ward, spokesperson for Access Ministries, says the SRI provider spent the first part of 2016 regrouping and consulting with parents and schools about the best way forward.

“We didn’t know what 2016 held,” he told Eternity. “We worked really hard and have rebuilt from scratch.

“We’re really excited that, despite claims of the death of SRI, they’ve been overstated. It’s not dead. It’s experiencing a resurgence of interest because parents and schools see the value of it.

“It makes a difference in the culture of the school and it makes a difference in the life of a child.”

In 2011, SRI in Victoria had about 940 participating schools, and more than 130,000 students in its classes.

A series of changes implemented by the government, including re-accreditation of volunteer teachers, saw numbers dramatically decrease to approximately 27,000 students in 2015. At the beginning of 2016, that number was almost zero.

“Lunchtimes are not ideal, absolutely. We’re trying to convey a message – values and principles – we’re trying to impart something. And lunchtimes do present a challenge to that.”

“We started off the year with some early adopters of our new programme – just a handful of schools, less than 10 – who said they’d give it a go and had enough parents to say yes,” said Ward.

The new programme, titled Explore Christianity, is being run almost exclusively during lunchtimes and has now expanded to close to 100 schools.

The 30-minute session is much more interactive and activity-based compared to the former SRI programme in class time, Ward told Eternity.

“Nobody is sitting at a desk writing stuff. They’re physically engaged and ‘doing’ things,” he said. “Lunchtimes are not ideal, absolutely. We’re trying to convey a message – values and principles – we’re trying to impart something. And lunchtimes do present a challenge to that, but we’ve risen to that challenge.”

Access Ministries says enquiries about the new lunchtime programme have been increasing through this year. They are expecting numbers to grow in 2017.

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