'Rubbish' Religious Education Declines In Australia And New Zealand Schools

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By Reissa Su | February 18, 2014 6:52 PM EST

Australian primary school principals in Victoria have decided to stop religious education from being taught in their schools despite a standing requirement to offer them to the students.

According to the Current Education Department guidelines, school principals are required to schedule "special religious instruction" classes in the school year when accredited teachers are available. Based on figures released by the Education Department, the number of state schools offering religious education has declined by almost a third in Victoria in the past two years.

Statistics should about 666 state schools offered religious education in 2013 compared to 940 schools in 2011. There were 130,100 students who got religious education in 2011 while only 92,808 students in 2013.

Cranbourne South Primary School Principal John Kelly supported Christian religious education classes provided by Christian organization Access Ministries until 2012. He stopped offering religious classes when he "took a closer look "at the actual curriculum.

Kelly discovered it was "not education" and had "no value whatsoever." He called religious education "rubbish - hollow and empty rhetoric." He asserted his school teachers were committed to teaching their students and not indoctrinate them.

He sent a letter to Access Ministries in 2012 to say they were no longer allowed to return in the school. The Christian organization said it will not force itself in the school.

Australia's Education Minister Martin Dixon said he has full confidence in the state school principals who can make their own decision to promote the interest of the school community.

Despite declining number of state schools offering religious education, Access Ministries Chief Executive Dr. Evonne Paddison said getting a Christian education was the "choice" of 90,000 parents in Victoria. She added some schools have seen growth in religious education while others have none.

To Opt In Or Out

Before 2011, religious education was given to the enrolled students unless parents chose to "opt out" or fill in the SRI forms. In the past two years, the forms became "opt in," which means parents who want their child to have religious classes in the school year will have to fill up the forms.

Some parents complained after finding out their children had received religious education even if they chose to opt out using the forms. The school recognized the manual error in the system but the parents were still upset about teaching Christian doctrine as fact and not in the context of belief.

Meanwhile, a primary school in Auckland, New Zealand has removed religious education from its curriculum after several parents had complained to the Human Rights Commission.  Auckland's St. Heliers School was accused of discriminating against non-Christian families by teaching religious classes to all students.

The school responded to the parents' complaints in a formal letter and said it will remove the religious classes within regular school hours. Religious educationwill still be offered in the school but only after normal class hours. 

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