Australian religious education ’19th century’

Student using blackboard

RELIGION and ethics taught from a secular perspective might well be included in the new national curriculum, according to Professor Barry McGaw, head of the board responsible for the curriculum.

Professor McGaw, chairman of the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority, said religion and ethics would be included in a discussion paper early next year for the civics and citizenship course.

Macquarie University PhD student Cathy Byrne told a forum hosted by the curriculum board in Sydney last week that the approach to religion and ethics in Australian schools was decades behind other leading developed nations.

She told The Age that Sweden began compulsory core social science teaching on religion and ethics in 1962, while England began in 1988. Canada introduced it in 2007 in public and private schools, with no opt-out provision, a measure upheld by Canada’s highest court, she said.

When Ireland introduced planned changes next year, it would leave ”only Australia and New Zealand doing 19th-century religious education”, Ms Byrne said.

She said such courses taught the top five or six religions, humanism, nature religion and indigenous spiritualities, and secular ideologies such as atheism. They were particularly valuable in helping children understand their pluralistic world, social inclusion, cohesion, stability and security. Further, they helped children develop critical thinking and understand the search for purpose and meaning, as a common human–not just religious–drive.

Professor McGaw said he was greatly encouraged by the forum, which included Christians, Jews, Buddhists, rationalists and sceptics.

”I’m quite open to it being part of the civics and citizenship curriculum,” he said. The next step would be a draft paper on civics and citizenship, followed by a national forum, public consultation and a final paper.

Source: The Age, 21 November

Photo Credit: The Age