Along with many Christians, as well as those of other faiths, I was disappointed to hear recently that the Victorian State Government had broken one of its election promises.  Premier Daniel Andrews promised to remove asbestos from schools, but said he would not scrap SRI during school hours.  I’m not sure how the asbestos removal is going, but SRI is being dumped during school hours from 2016.  I know I shouldn’t be surprised, after all both sides of politics seem to entice voters with various promises only to default on them once they’ve gained power: “There will be no SRI under the government I lead!”

The weekly 30-minute SRI program will move to lunchtime or before and after school – of course we parents need another extra-curricular activity to fit into an already busy week!

This move discriminates against all faiths, not just Christianity (including the Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches).  At present SRI is provided by Jewish, Buddhist, Baha’i, Islam and Hindu faiths.  The vast majority of Victorians identify themselves as belonging to a religious group.  Why is the majority being wronged?  This decision also negates the value that religions bring to our society.  Dr. Sue Smith from the Buddhist Council of Victoria says, “All religions have rich repositories of stories that provide resources for ethical exploration with students and can support existing values programs.”

Christian SRI taps into much of what our community already knows about the Bible and Christian faith.  For example, we often hear people refer to someone as a “Good Samaritan” or a person facing a “David and Goliath” challenge.  Teaching children the stories from the Bible gives them an understanding of these concepts and values that enrich their lives and the lives of others.

I had many enjoyable years teaching SRI (known as CRE at the time) in the late 80s and early 90s.  I taught four grade six classes every Tuesday morning.  The kids loved it and so did the teachers.  Very few parents opted their children out.  I never proselytised.  I stuck to the curriculum and we engaged in some great discussions and lots of fun.  I’ve received a number of emails over the years from the kids I taught (now adults with children of their own) saying how grateful they are for those lessons.

But for many years there’s been a concerted attack from secular and humanist groups and individuals to see SRI removed from school hours.  In 2011 the opt-out system was changed to opt-in and enrolments dropped 42% over the next two years as a result.  One of the arguments used against SRI is that non-participating students were sent to the library or sat in corridors.  If that’s true then that’s an issue that needs to be addressed by individual schools and parents.  I believe most teachers use this time for non-participating students to engage in self-directed learning like reading, finishing projects, homework or revision. Children are not being discriminated against. Some parents are exercising their rights to voluntarily withdraw their children from SRI. If schools were to provide new work to non-SRI students, this would result in SRI students missing out.

SRI is being replaced with new content on world histories, cultures, faiths and ethics.  Classes that address domestic violence and respectful relationships will also become compulsory for all prep to year 10 students from 2016.  While I think this course will be of great value to children why does it have to be either / or?  Surely both SRI and the new ‘Respectful Relationships Education’ program are equally worthy.

If you feel strongly about advocating for SRI to continue to be offered during school hours in Victoria here are some things you may want to do:

  • Visit/call/write/email you local MP to voice your opinion.
  • Write to your local paper or to The Age or Herald Sun.
  • Take the petition found on the Access Ministries website to your church, your school and your friends and ask them to stand up for children’s rights to receive SRI .
  • If you want your child(ren) to learn about the Christian faith then make sure your faith is strong and well-informed.  Find a good local church where the whole family can grow in faith together.  This also stands true if you belong to another faith tradition.

And finally, be careful, prayerful, graceful and respectful in all you do and say.

I can’t speak for every teacher of CRE but I know that in my six years of teaching I found the students (grade 5 & 6) enjoyed the lessons and discussions and that the teachers were also very much onside as they saw the benefits of CRE teaching.   The provision of a basic understanding of the Christian faith is beneficial to all students, and parents who don’t wish for their children to participate can opt out.  I found that many parents were more than happy for their children to participate – children from different religious backgrounds or no religion at all.

Rather than Access Ministries overstepping the mark, the furor has the hallmark of yet another attack on Christian influence in the public square.  And now here comes another one.

“Parents Victoria (“PV”) will be voting this Thursday and Friday at their AGM on a motion to remove Special Religious Instruction from schools.  The motion originates from, and has already been passed by, the teachers’ union, Victoria Branch of the Australian Education Union.  If it passes at PV, then the PV Executive will support the teachers’ union and lobby for the removal of SRI as well.” – That was the correspondence sent out recently by Parents Victoria.

The Motion that will be voted on reads as follows: “Parents Victoria endorses the motion passed by the Victoria Branch of the Australian Education Union May 13, 2011, and joins our teachers in calling for Special Religious Instruction to be moved outside of the normal school day by directing the Parents Victoria Executive to lobby to move SRI outside the compulsory school day.”  That is, that CRE or SRI would be an afterschool activity much like singing, dancing and some sports.

Part of the reasoning for such a move is that schools are secular and so no religion should be taught.  It could also be seen to be unfair to people of different religions – even though over 61% of Australians still classify themselves as Christian compared to non-Christian religions at 7.2% and those who don’t identify with any religion at 31.7%.  But it just seems that there are some people with an anti-Christian agenda who want us all out of the school system no matter what.

The bizarre twist in this latest move against CRE is that there is another motion being put forward at this AGM.  This states: “That Parents Victoria lobbies the Department of Education for all government schools to receive specific funding to allow them to provide expert continuing Cybersafety programs to their students and parents.”  While I’m all in favour of education for Cybersafety it strikes me as shortsighted that Parents Victoria seem to fail to see the inconsistency. Instead of trying to remove Christianity from our schools they should instead embrace it because the basic tenets of the Christian faith lead a person to lead a moral life and be loving and kind to others – qualities, I would have thought, would go along way to increasing the effectiveness of Cybersafety for our precious children.