School Religion Syllabus
SCHOOL RELIGION SYLLABUS
The Hon. J. F. RYAN: I ask the Minister for School Education and Youth Affairs the following question without notice. Has a syllabus for the study of religion been prepared for higher school certificate study, as proposed in the curriculum reform white paper? Will the Minister provide details of the syllabus to the House?
The Hon. VIRGINIA CHADWICK: I thank the Hon. J. F. Ryan for his question. I am delighted to be able to provide him with an answer because it is clearly a matter that has been on his mind for some time, given the representations he has been making on a regular basis on this subject to me and to my staff. I am sure that the honourable member, and all honourable members of this House, will be pleased to know that the new religion syllabus, prepared by the New South Wales Board of Studies, was delivered to New South Wales high schools this month for optional implementation in year 11 classes in 1992. At least 20 schools, including two government schools, have indicated they will offer this course in the first term next year, such is the level of
interest and enthusiasm that this new syllabus has generated. As I say, it is for optional implementation in year 11 from next year and we anticipate that the first higher school certificate examinations will be held in 1993.
The syllabus covers the five main religious traditions that one finds in Australia - Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism - and offers courses such as religion and ethics, music or literature, or a topic which is developed locally to reflect the ethos of the school and its community. This has been an important element in the consultative framework used to develop the syllabus, because it is clearly a syllabus for all schools. Throughout New South Wales that includes a number of Catholic schools within the large and highly regarded Catholic education system. It includes also an increasing number of Christian schools, much smaller and totally independent schools. All those schools and their views and ethical frameworks have been taken into consideration so that the syllabus will be welcomed in all those areas. Knowing that there has been such long and in-depth consultation, I can say with confidence that the syllabus will be well received next year because it has already been the subject of consultation with parents, teachers and church groups. In the main the responses have been strongly supportive, and where concerns have been expressed I have made certain that there is direct consultation with the Board of Studies to ensure those views are taken on board and, where possible, incorporated within the syllabus framework.
The syllabus is not based exclusively on any one model for studying religion. It adopts an educational approach related to the overall aims of the key learning area of human society and its environment. In so doing it attempts to find a balance between theological, historical and sociological approaches to the study of religion. The course is designed for students in government and non-government schools and does not seek to establish one particular religious tradition to the exclusion of all others, although it stands to reason that those schools with a particular religious focus will be able to develop strands to suit their school ethos within the general framework. The aim of the syllabus is to promote an awareness, understanding and appreciation of the nature of religion and the influence of religious beliefs and practices on societies and on individuals, with emphasis on the Australian context. The studies of religion course explores the diversity of religious expression and experience in the world and can provide students with the opportunity to increase awareness and appreciation - and, I hope, tolerance - of Australia's rapidly changing multifaith society. One of the reasons for the anticipated popularity of the new course is that it is widely expected that it will help to create greater tolerance and understanding between people of different religions by encouraging senior students to broaden their religious knowledge. I am pleased and proud to say that the new syllabus has been introduced on time and according to the Government's commitment in the white paper on curriculum reform. I thank the honourable member for his long and persistent interest in this matter, although I feel absolutely sure that I will still hear much from him on this matter during the implementation phase of the syllabus.