Ethics and Humanism in schools – an update

13 Jun 2016

News – 13 June 2016

Ethics and Humanism in schools – an update

HSV’s volunteers remained taking ethics classes at Toorak Primary School until the end of the 2015 school year. We thank all our volunteers for the great work they have done.

Through its education subcommittee, HSV has reconsidered its role of delivering ethics lessons in primary schools.

Our pilot program, conducted in collaboration with the Victorian Association for Philosophy in Schools (VAPS), has demonstrated that the community of ethical inquiry helps children to debate big issues and to think critically. We have also been a part of a move that has resulted in the State government’s decision to remove special religious instruction from school hours and to bring into the Victorian curriculum ethical capability with an awareness of the Humanist worldview. HSV is gratified by those developments and very glad to have been a part of it all.

Within a year, teachers will have accountability for ethical content. The time is therefore ripe for all the responsibility of providing ethics classes to be handed over to teachers, professionally upskilled by VAPS. Accordingly, HSV has closed the volunteer ethics program. We understand that VAPS has formed four geographical hubs around Melbourne to train and support teachers to teach ethics. VAPS may have some roles for volunteers in 2016, and our volunteers have been referred on to them.

HSV has, at the invitation of Victorian Curriculum & Assessment Authority, contributed to the curriculum document, ‘Learning about world views and religions’. It is an innovation spanning years F–10, the first thoroughgoing implementation of the provision for general religious education in the Education & Training Reform Act 2006 (§2.2.10), and it includes rationalism and secular humanism. Comparative religion in schools has been Humanist policy at least since 1973 when Dr Harry Gardner (Outstanding Humanist Achiever 2012) submitted a comprehensive report to the Russell Committee of Inquiry. Members of the Society now have the golden opportunity to come up with teaching resources on Humanism.

Coincidentally, the British Humanist Association (BHA) last year brought a case before the High Court of Justice of England and Wales on behalf of three humanist parents and their children, challenging the Government’s relegation of non-religious world-views in the latest subject content for GCSE Religious Studies. The judge ruled in November that the Government had made an ‘error of law’ in leaving out non-religious world-views such as humanism, which amounted to ‘a breach of the duty to take care that information or knowledge included in the curriculum is conveyed in a pluralistic manner’. BHA has produced a short book, What is Humanism? How do you live without a god? and other big questions for kids (Wayland 2015), aimed at every primary school in the land.

Report by Stephen Stuart and Cathy Warburton