RELIGIONS for PEACE (Australia)
CURRICULUM CONTENT of SPECIAL RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTION
in VICTORIAN GOVERNMENT SCHOOLS
The purpose of this document is to outline the approval process on behalf of the Victorian Minister for Education for the provision of Special Religious Instruction (SRI) in government schools. This process is to be conducted in accordance with Section 2.2.11 on "special religious instruction" of the Victorian Education and Training Reform Act 2006.
The Australian chapter of the World Conference of Religions for Peace (WCRP Australia) has been contracted by the State of Victoria, through the offices of the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (Department), to oversee the provision of religious instruction in government schools, through the registration of instructors from faith communities not associated with ACCESS Ministries, the Catholic Education Office or the United Jewish Education Board. It also has been contracted by the Department to oversee the approval process of the religious instruction on behalf of the Minister. The Minister has responsibility for the provision of all classes taught in Victorian schools. In this instance, regarding religious instruction provided by faith communities not associated with ACCESS Ministries, the Catholic Education Office or the United Jewish Education Board, the Minister will rely on formal advice provided by WCRP (Australia). This process will apply to those faith communities, not including the above, but which have been approved by the Commonwealth of Australia under the Marriage Celebrants Act.
It is required that all current religious curricula be approved by 31 December 2008. It is recommended that the following process be followed in a flexible and professional manner. The process is to be characterised as open, consultative and facilitative:
1. The curriculum of a particular faith tradition will be examined by a three-member panel consisting of (a) the chair of WCRP (Australia) or his or her nominee who does not necessarily have to be a member of WCRP (Australia) and will not be a member of the faith tradition; (b) an expert member of the faith tradition nominated by the governing or umbrella body or the head or the nominee of the particular faith community and, as such, has responsibility for arranging the SRI in government schools; and (c) an expert in religious education who is not a member of the faith community. All three panel members will have high-level expertise in religious studies or in religious instruction so as to ensure the approval process has credibility in the eyes of the wider community as well as the faith community itself.
2. The assessment of each curriculum will be to ensure that the content is in accordance with (a) the highest values of the human spirit such as honesty, loyalty, love etc. and (b) the spirit and principles of interfaith cooperation and understanding.
3. The assessment of each curriculum will be to ensure that the curriculum content contains (i) nothing that directly contravenes Australian or Victorian law (ii) nothing that directly contravenes either natural justice or human rights provisions as stipulated under the major UN and other international covenants (iii) nothing that encourages or tends to encourage violence, physical or psychological, against others (iv) nothing pornographic that is detrimental to the appropriate psychosexual development of the child (v) nothing that is detrimental or derogatory of other faith traditions, and (vi) nothing that contravenes accepted moral and ethical standards.
4. The assessment of each curriculum will be to ensure that the material is appropriate for the age and maturity of the students.
5. An initiating letter from the governing or umbrella body or the head or the nominee of the particular faith community will be sent to the chair of WCRP (Australia), seeking approval of their curriculum, and including the names and résumé of the faith community's nomination of their selected expert. A copy will be sent to the Manager of the Targeted Initiatives Unit of the Department , advising them of the intention to seek approval. The letter will be accompanied by three copies of the curriculum with as much detail as possible for a productive assessment.
6. Within a month, the Executive Committee of WCRP (Australia) will have appointed the three-member panel and will have, accordingly, advised both the leader of the faith community and the Department. The chair of WCRP (Australia) or his or her nominee will be responsible for convening the panel and preparing the report for the Executive Committee. Prior to the review of the application by the Executive Committee, the leader of the faith committee will be given the opportunity to comment in writing upon the contents of the report.
7. The report will assess the curriculum according to the criteria (a), (b) and (i)-(vi). It will not normally comment on any of the directly religious beliefs of the faith tradition. It may comment on the teaching methodologies recommended in the curriculum but these will not be part of the approval process unless the methodologies are detrimental to the well-being of a student or are at great variance with teaching methodologies accepted within the government school system. It is to be noted that physical punishment cannot be part of any teaching methodology or class management system. The report will comment on the positive elements of the curriculum as well as drawing attention to the weaknesses.
8. The approval process will normally take place between 3 - 6 months but no longer than seven months before the written report by the panel is prepared and given to the leader of the faith community and the approval decision is made. The faith community will have the opportunity to make changes to the curriculum in light of the findings of the report.
9. In the case of non-approval of the application, the leader of the faith community can request the Executive Committee of WCRP (Australia) to institute a second approval process with a totally new panel. The Executive Committee will normally accept this second application. If this second application is also unsuccessful, the faith community can have recourse to the Minister who, on the basis of the two reports, will determine any further steps to be taken.
10. When the curriculum document has been approved by the WCRP (Australia), it will be forwarded to the Department for final approval.
11. It is expected that each faith community will ensure that the RI, which is delivered, follows the approved curriculum.
12. Should a faith organization wish to modify the curriculum content, at a later stage, then a request to give consideration to the changes should be made to the Executive Committee of WCRP (Australia).
13. Normal administrative costs for the process will be borne by WCRP (Australia) as part of their contractual agreement with the Department. Members of the panel will normally act in an honorary capacity. If there are any extraneous costs (e.g. travel costs for a nominated expert), these will be borne by the particular faith community.
Professionalism and courtesy will be observed at all times.
Approval of Curriculum Content Process:
By: Executive Committee of WCRP (Australia):