A WOMAN, perhaps in her mid-60s, enters a classroom of eight-year-olds in a state primary school on the outskirts of Melbourne. She is carrying a Bible. She joins the teacher, who reads out about eight of her pupils’ names. A child stands as a name is called, and when all are called, those on their feet file out of class to a side room. They amount to about a third of this particular group; their parents have chosen to withdraw them from half-an-hour a week of Christian instruction.
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal ruled recently that such scenes, which are enacted in scores of state primary schools throughout Victoria each week, are non-discriminatory. Whatever we think of that decision, the VCAT case, which was brought by three parents, failed to address a more fundamental question.
When Victorian students are reading and spelling less well, Christianity is declining and Julia Gillard is desperate to improve school education, are children getting pedagogic value out of almost 3 per cent of class time sequestered for Christian instruction?
Under Education Department guidelines, pupils removed to side rooms must not be taught “core curriculum”. They must be “appropriately supervised” in activities such as revision, “self-study” and “positive independent learning”.
But what happens to those who remain in class?
ACCESS ministries, which is responsible for almost all religious instruction in Victorian primary schools, has trained for 5 hours the woman with the Bible. She has volunteered to take Christianity to children. ACCESS’ website says that “every day of the school year”, its 3200 “teachers” are “sharing God’s love” with more than 130,000 Victorian children. According to the statutes, public schools must let ACCESS into classrooms. And, to a significant extent, taxpayers foot the bill for the organisation’s activities.
The principal of the primary school on the city fringes is incensed that ACCESS’ Christian religious education (CRE) is in his borough. It simply wastes precious classroom time, he told me. It is unprofessional, and possibly “pedagogically harmful”. He is determined to rid his school of it by next year.
Written By: Stephen Downescontinue to source article at theage.com.au