A new, ground-breaking report will be published dealing with the importance of Special Religious Education/Instruction, known colloquially as scripture classes. The report presents five important values that will bring integration and less bullying in schools.
The report is based on the book by Professor Zehavit Gross of Bar Ilan University, Israel who is Dean of the Faculty of Education, and Emeritus Professor Suzanne Rutland, of the University of Sydney who served for many years as Chair of the Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies.
The book, entitled Special Religious Instruction in Australia and its Value to Contemporary Australia. It will be launched on Monday evening at the Alphacrucis College in Paramatta. It was published by in 2021 Springer, a leading academic publisher.
In the book, Professors Gross and Rutland, stress five major constituents of SRE/RI,
These are firstly values education, where it is vital for students to be able to explore the values of their religious community so that they can develop a strong ethical basis, and religion plays a key role in that.
Secondly, researchers talk about social capital, but religious identity is part of that social capital because that identity is at the core of who they are.
Thirdly spirituality and well-being, as research has demonstrated that regular prayer and/or meditation among high school students adds to their health and well-being.
Fourthly, enabling students to learn about their own religion within the integrated environment of a government school adds to the multicultural nature of the school, as children from the different faiths can share their experiences and learning.
Finally, SRE/RI helps students to deal with religious bullying in the playground. In an earlier study, Professors Gross and Rutland found that Jewish students described these classes as a ‘safe place’ because of the antisemitic bullying they experienced in the playground. The failure of principals and schools to acknowledge this growing problem through either denial or victim blaming has a negative effect on social coherence and intercultural understandings in Australia.
They also argue for the importance of professional development for SRE/RI in what they describe as ‘bringing SRE/RI into the twenty-first century.
Their findings have been validated by research undertaken by McCrindle, a social research company, in a study they undertook this year, when they conducted a quantitative online survey completed by 1,000 Australians as well as two focus groups with key stakeholders from New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria. These findings are included in the report.
Professor Gross arrived from Israel last Monday for the launch of the book and the report. Last week, she with Professor Rutland had meetings with key leaders from the different faith groups – Christianity, Islam, The New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies and Hinduism. They included a meeting at a Hindu restaurant organised by Surinder Jain, President and Director of the Hindu Council of Australia and a visit to the Sydney Islamic College, This was developed by Sheikh Shady Alsuleiman who is head of the Australian Muslim Imams Association. He managed in 2020 to bring all the Australian Imams together in one organisation and he is a strong supporter of interfaith dialogue and cooperation.
These meetings were extremely important in countering religious bullying and antisemitism in the playground. In addition to education and monitoring online, we need to build coalitions if we wish to be able to successfully counter religious and antisemitic bullying in the playground.
A key person in all these developments is Mr Murray Norman, who was CEO of Christian RE and recognised the importance of creating a multifaith coalition which he established. It is called ‘Better Balanced Futures” and it aims for build a better future for the children of all the religious communities.
NSW Jewish Board of Deputies CEO Darren Bark added, “We are very concerned and unfortunately not surprised by the findings of this report that shows religious bullying is rampant among our schools. In 2022, no matter what your background or religious beliefs, you should be free from discrimination, harassment and vilification – especially at school.
The NSW Jewish community joins with our interfaith partners in calling for this appalling behaviour to be stamped out, and for greater education, awareness and resources to allow schools to better deal with the bullies and their victims.”