The future of special religious instruction in government primary schools is in doubt, with state funding uncertain and new data revealing that fewer than one in six students are enrolled in the program.
The popularity of the weekly 30-minute classes fell dramatically in the past six months – from 92,808 students to 53,361 – a 42 per cent plunge in enrolments in less than a year.
The new Education Department figures are the latest blow to the main provider of religious instruction, chaplaincy organisation Access Ministries, and more bad news could be on the way.
Illustration: Matt Golding.
Earlier in the year the Napthine government pledged $2 million funding to the program over four years, but a spokesperson for new Deputy Premier and Education Minister James Merlino pointed out this week that the Labor government had not made any similar election pledge.
the principal of Berwick P.S. Has been a vocal critic of the program and the state money used to pay for it for some time. In the Age today he made the following comments:
"It adds up over the course of a school year," said one. "I tallied it up, and we're losing roughly four days that we could be teaching."
Some schools now have as many as seven different forms of religious instruction – from Greek Orthodox to Islam, Buddhism to Baha'i – which can create other problems, too.
One principal remembered a student approaching him on a recent morning of SRI. As the classes split into various groups, the child asked "Well, what am I?"
"How does a teacher respond to that?" he said. "This is supposed to be a secular education system, and we're dividing kids up every week according to their religion."
Lara Wood, a spokesperson for the Fairness in Religion in School group, said the grassroots organisation would not rest until religious instruction was removed entirely.
"SRI is a dying program, and we are here to make sure that happens sooner rather than later," she said. "The numbers speak for themselves. It is simply not wanted."
Love the cartoon.
Ballarat Brass Bamd playing Christmas tunes in the Queen Alexandria Rotunda during the lead up to Christmas.