Professor Marion Maddox of Macquarie University says religion no longer holds the mantle it used to in Australia’s schools.
With the curriculum review continuing to be debated, the issue of religious education in schools is being seen by many educators as simply another elective class for students to take, Maddox says.
“Nowadays we don’t really care about religion that much.
“We think, ‘Ah whatever, we’ll just throw in a little bit and it can’t hurt anybody.’
“We’ve forgotten that actually these things can have quite serious consequences for how people live their lives, how children form their attitudes, how they feel about one another growing up,” Maddox said.
The Macquarie professor added that a “conversation about the quality and influence” of religious education in Australia is long overdue.
The Government’s aim of boosting numeracy and literacy in schools, however, also includes a stronger focus on religious education in schools.
However, an organisation called Primary Ethics, formed by the St James Ethics Centre, have touted its classes as an option for students who do not wish to study religion. More than 20,000 students are participating in Primary Ethics classes across NSW.
The group’s chief executive, Teresa Russel, said that ethics is an option for parents who don’t want to send their children to scripture classes.
"Even though the program has been going for four years, parents don't know that ethics is an option for children who don't go to scripture classes," explained Russell.
The head of the federal government’s national curriculum review, Kevin Donnelly, who is an influential advocate of religious education, supports a stronger presence of religion in Australia’s “very secular” curriculum.
In an article published on the ABC’s website in 2011, Donnelly wrote:
“While many non-believers argue that it is OK for schools to be given copies of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, when it comes to the word of God all bets are off.”
Later in the article, Donnelly referred to the “moral compass” that religious education provides students and helps them lead lives based on mutual respect.
“Possibly, the most important benefit of reading the Bible is that it provides a moral compass that is based on love, compassion, reciprocity and the belief that one is not the centre of the universe and that spiritual and ethical values are fundamental to human nature.”
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