Background to World Views and Religions Education
The Humanist Society of Victoria (HSV) has been campaigning against the Churches’ use of Special Religious Instruction (SRI) in Victorian schools to indoctrinate children since 1973. In 2015, following a number of legal challenges to the SRI program and iterations to the regulations governing SRI, the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) introduced two new capabilities into the Victorian curriculum; ethics and critical and creative thinking.
At the same time, the Victorian Government announced that it was moving SRI from occupying normal class time to out-of-school hours in order to make way for teaching world views and religions in a more impartial and non-doctrinal way. The Humanist Society of Victoria immediately welcomed the move to a more secular-based education model that did not give special privilege to one or other religious world view.
The new model proposes the teaching of the five main religions in addition to one non-religious world view. The five major religions to be introduced into the curriculum are:
The non-religious world view to be treated is labelled “Secular humanism and rationalism”.
In contrast to the SRI program in which lessons were taught by volunteers from religious providers, world views and religions are to be taught by professional teachers. This new part of the curriculum is designed for years Foundational to Year 10 (F–10). Students undertaking Years 11 and 12 (Victorian Certificate of Education) can elect to study a self-contained subject titled, Religion and Society.
World Views and Religions Education Approach
The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) describes its approach to the teaching of world views and religions to F–10 students in its brief guide, Learning About World Views and Religions:
Learning about the key premises of world views and major religions is an important part of a contemporary school curriculum. It enables students to be more informed and engaged at both a local and global level, supporting an understanding of the perspectives of diverse local communities and the beliefs and practices of diverse traditions.
It assists students to recognise and appreciate both areas of commonality and difference between diverse faith groups and secular perspectives.
The approach to learning about world views and religions in the Victorian Curriculum F–10 is based on the following characteristics:
- learning about world views and religions should be contextualised in broader learning programs
- it should include a rationale and opportunities for critical thinking, and
- students should have the opportunity to study at least one non-religious world view and a range of religions.
VCAA provides a guide for teachers and schools to assist them in engaging students with opportunities for learning about world views and religions across the Victorian curriculum. Teaching about world views and religions is meant to integrate seamlessly into the various curriculum areas, including the Civics and Citizenship and History curricula, and Ethical, Intercultural and Personal and Social Capabilities. The guide “provides an outline of the key premises concerning belief in the nature of ultimate reality, the meaning and purpose of life and the relationship between people and ultimate reality posited by a world view broadly described as Secular humanism and rationalism, and the world’s (and Australia’s) five major religions.”
Without detailing the entirety of each world view or religion, nor delving into the diversity within each view, the aim of the teaching is to illustrate the key premises of each view and “what is common to different denominations of religious traditions and schools of thought”. The objective is to enable students “to gain a broad awareness of diversity across world views and religions”.
I want my children to go to a school where they can sit next to a Christian, play football in the break with a Muslim, do homework with a Hindu and walk back with an atheist – interacting with them and them getting to know what a Jewish child is like. Schools should build bridges, not erect barriers.
[Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, MBE (past-Chair, Accord Coalition)]
From the directive announced in 2015 to teach world views and religions to F–10 students, the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) sought to identify and collate appropriate resource material for use by teachers. HSV formed an agreement with VCAA to provide information to the Authority on relevant aspects of Humanism. HSV’s liaison within VCAA was Monica Bini, who also addressed the Council of Australian Humanist Societies (CAHS) Australian Humanist Convention 2017.
To meet HSV’s commitment, the HSV Committee formed a special Education sub-committee tasked with aiding VCAA develop the required materials. The Education sub-committee held its first meeting on 6 October 2016. The inaugural members were John Russell, Stephen Stuart, Rosslyn Ives and Marietta Elliott. The subcommittee also enlisted the support of HSV member and experienced curriculum developer, Kathryn Bowden, as Curriculum Consultant. Leslie Allan joined the subcommittee in December 2016.
For this project, HSV also received valuable support from the British Humanist Association (BHA). On 10 May 2016, BHA launched its comprehensive humanist education web site, specifically created to assist teachers in teaching about humanism in British schools. BHA had recently been given government approval to teach Humanism in English schools. HSV subsequently obtained permission from BHA for the VCAA and Victorian teachers to use the materials listed on the BHA web site in the delivery of lessons in Victoria. BHA had also offered their consultancy and advisory services for this project.
In December 2016, VCAA began searching for a supplier to write eight sample teaching and learning programs for the VCAA in the area of world views and religions. As a result, in March 2017, VCAA handed responsibility for the development of curriculum materials to an independent group of curriculum developers headed by Mary Tuohy (President, Religion and Society Network – RASNET).
All throughout 2017, the HSV Education subcommittee worked productively with Mary Tuohy to develop a variety of teaching materials. An example of a teaching resource is the case study of Henrietta Dugdale, Humanistic Suffragist, submitted in June 2017.
On 16 April 2019, HSV Vice President, Leslie Allan, met with VCAA Humanities Curriculum Manager, Leonie Brown, and the President of the Rationalist Society of Australia, Meredith Doig, to finalize the four units of work consisting of three lessons covering the four different areas of the Humanities for Levels 3–4, 5–6, 7–8 and 9–10. The VCAA anticipates that the initial rollout of the materials in pilot form will occur in late 2019.
Learning About World Views and Religions
(Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority guide)
Victorian Certificate of Education – Religion and Society: Study Design
(Religion and Society subject for students undertaking Years 11 and 12 in Victorian Secondary Schools)
Henrietta Dugdale, Humanistic Suffragist
(HSV submission to Victorian Government’s working group on teaching world views and religions)