Defending ‘Scripture’

THE NSW Board of Jewish Education (BJE) has strongly challenged a push by the NSW Primary Principals’ Association (NSWPPA) to stop Scripture classes occurring at public schools within school hours, claiming such a shift would “send an unequivocal negative message”.

A position paper produced by the NSWPPA earlier this month called for Scripture lessons, which are taught by volunteers, to be moved to either before or after school.

The main reasons cited are concerns that teachers face a steep challenge of covering the full school curriculum every week while losing a period of teaching time for special religious education (SRE) and ethics classes, and that students who opt out can only do unstructured, supervised activities.

NSWPPA vice-president Michael Trist insisted that member principals were not “anti-religion” but were chiefly concerned about timetable disruptions.

More than 2000 Jewish students at NSW public schools receive weekly Jewish scripture lessons via BJE, which also provides Hebrew and Jewish studies classes, and a year 6 Project Heritage Holocaust education module.

In a joint statement in response to the NSWPPA’s claims, BJE CEO Hilit Man and NSW Jewish Board of Deputies CEO Vic Alhadeff highlighted a landmark 2018 report about the value of SRE in NSW, co-authored by Professor Emerita Suzanne Rutland from the University of Sydney.

“[That report] found that [SRE] imparts psychological benefits to students in terms of their mental health and well-being, while strengthening the
multicultural fabric of public schools and creating a safe space
for students to explore questions of faith.

“For these reasons, we feel strongly that scripture classes should continue to be part of the school day.

“Relegating them to outside school hours would send an unequivocal negative message that matters of faith and the values of multiculturalism are of minimal importance.”

The above article appeared in
The Australian Jewish News (Sydney edition) on 14 August 2020.