It’s 2021, how are religious schools still a thing?

Zoya Patel 26 May 2021 83
St Christopher's Cathedral

Is it time we created a separation between church and school? Photo: File.

When it comes to education, everyone has an opinion. Understandably, parents, community members and decision-makers all want to make sure kids are getting the best possible start through their schooling, and there are so many different elements to what makes a good education (with plenty of opportunity for things to go wrong).

Every child deserves access to high-quality free public education that provides them with a strong foundation for their future.

When I refer to education, though, I mean tangible knowledge – maths, science, English, social studies, health, history, languages etc. The ability to problem solve, think critically and work with other people.

One thing I absolutely don’t include when defining education is religion.

In fact, I think religious education should be restricted to outside of school hours wherever it takes place. It boggles my mind that private religious schools still exist.

As a child, I went to public schools, both in Canberra and out, but we still had time set aside each term for what was then referred to as ‘scripture’ sessions.


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In these, we were taught about Christianity, with basic Bible stories and often an arts and crafts-based activity. I had permission from my parents to abstain from these sessions as we practised a different religion at home, and so would be sent outside with a book for the hour or so they took (which now feels like a waste of time).

This was in the late 90s, so I imagine things have changed now. But even in such small doses, I can’t help but feel that religion has no place in our public or private education systems.

It has the potential to distract or trouble the way subjects are taught, especially when they contradict religious ideology (for example, in science, history, sex education), and more importantly, it can present a fundamental position on social and political issues that impacts on the ability of children and young people to critically engage with the world around them and form opinions of their own.

I was raised with religion at home and found myself drifting towards atheism through high school. School, thankfully, was a safe haven where I could explore ideas without judgment or imposition, and where I was supported to formulate my own opinions on how our world is structured, and what guides our actions as human beings.

Even more importantly, in my opinion, the time I spent at school was dedicated to learning, without the imposition of absolutist moral tutelage taking time away from the hard skills development of my core subjects.


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Friends who attended private schools, where religion was a key part of school life and activities, including mandatory religious education as a core subject, have shared with me their stories of feeling frustrated by the church services they had to attend, and the topics and approaches taken by the religious studies teachers (another compulsory unit of study).

One told me how she tried to question her teacher’s instruction on other religions, which he posed as nonsensical in comparison to Catholicism, and how she was dismissed and ridiculed for this.

Of course, I have no doubt that this isn’t the norm, and that schools today (at least some of them) encourage discourse and robust discussion around religious diversity.

But are these subjects that even need to be explored in a school setting, or imbued throughout the culture of a school more broadly? Isn’t it more appropriate that religion be the remit of parents and their religious leaders, and school be a place where education and knowledge isn’t complicated by personal beliefs?

Religion is a core part of human history, but should specific religious practices and beliefs be incorporated into our education system via religious schools, or is it time for separation between school and church?


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83 Responses to It’s 2021, how are religious schools still a thing?
paulmuster paulmuster 1:32 pm 28 May 21

I went to an aglican school and loved every minute of it! The pastors were some of the most hillarious people I have ever met – genuinely sad specimens with no real meaning in life beyond trying (albeit failing miserably) to indoctrinate kids.

I made some of my best friends in classrooms laughing at bible vomit and have enjoyed a happy life of building friendships based on sin with them! I do hope that the next generation are afforded that opportunity too!

bj_ACT bj_ACT 12:45 pm 28 May 21

As I’ve mentioned previously, the private versus public school argument isn’t always straightforward.

When Andrew Barr closed my sons public school in Kambah (he also closed two other primary schools) and he replaced them with a hastily contrived super school on the site of the closed Kambah High School.

There was no considered process or resourcing for the kind of change management you would expect for such a massive change to ACT education.

The superschool was and remains hopeless and my son was forced like many others into the Kambah catholic school. I can tell you the Kambah catholic school wasn’t full of rich kids and families, I would guess the average income of the families there would have been less than the public schools of inner Canberra. The facilities and resourcing would also have been less than many Canberra public schools.

It’s a complex issue outside the Grammar and style private schools.

Wendeborg Wendeborg 8:21 am 28 May 21

I was sent to a private Anglican school, despite having atheist parents. I am grateful to have had the experience. I believe religion is part of general education, and am often shocked at the gaps in my own children’s religious knowledge.

Fiona Snow Fiona Snow 7:00 am 28 May 21

The answer is real estate.

Lynne Goodyer Lynne Goodyer 6:57 am 28 May 21

The author states in the article ‘The ability to problem solve, think critically and work with other people’ is the purpose of schools. In working with people, as a team member and leader, you need to understand them as a whole to motivate and empower them to be their best. This includes their believes and values.

Religion is just a belief and worship of something, we all have a religion but would not consider it as such. We all worship something liberal values, capitalism, wealth, the footy, beauty, status, authority, self actualization, a deity, the list is endless. It is a matter of what or who do you worship?

I am no apposed to religious studies in school but it should include a holistic study of religions and the belief systems not just the view of a single doctrine. We fear and make assumptions on what we don’t understand and learning about a variety of faiths could help us all to understand each other a little more.

Robyn Holder Robyn Holder 11:06 pm 27 May 21

I was horrified to find out that my grandson's primary school in Canberra allows religious instruction. How is this happening in Canberra? Those people need to be kept away from children.

    Sari Kämppi Sari Kämppi 6:33 am 28 May 21

    Robyn Holder ours did too. We had to opt in, not out.

Russell Nankervis Russell Nankervis 10:37 pm 27 May 21

Religion should not be in schools. It can be so harmful

chettb chettb 9:52 pm 27 May 21

The author of this article has some valid points but fails to understand the basis of what ‘education’ entails. Every society educates and socialites its young to become useful members of adult society. As a pluralistic and multi-ethic society, citizens have the right to educate their young according to the ideas of their essential beliefs. Australia has become a largely secular society. Many would comment that it’s culturally Judeo-Christian values are being replaced by a moral vacuum exhibiting a new post- Christian morality which emphasises the individual over society to society’s detriment. Thus many parents want their children schooled in the moral values of their community whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim etc. I do agree, however, that such schools may threaten social assimilation if the values they teach are too different from mainstream values and if the students in such schools are overwhelmingly of one community. Such balkanisation would not be useful when the children finally go out into society which is diverse. One would hope that such schools have strong regulatory oversight and inspections to ensure that they conform to the universal national standards.

Toni Isaacson Toni Isaacson 8:36 pm 27 May 21

Religion, faith, belief is SO much more than just history. It is the context in which people worldwide over the globe live their lives. A bit of understanding of the development of Western civilisation, and a recognition that Australia is a free country wouldn't go astray.

Ol L Ol L 6:42 pm 27 May 21

Most parents I know couldn’t care less about the catholic component. They are just glad to have their kids out of the public system.

    bj_ACT bj_ACT 2:54 pm 28 May 21

    Spot on. The public school system is not the same across all parts of Canberra.

    The best public school teachers want to work at the best public schools, making it hard for some of Canberra’s public schools to retain their most promising talent.

    I keep hearing it’s a tough gig teaching in an outer suburban school with lower socioeconomic kids and less educated parents to help support the in class learnings.

Andrew O'Brien Andrew O'Brien 6:15 pm 27 May 21

Because parents still pay them.

Henry Kivimaki Henry Kivimaki 5:51 pm 27 May 21

Once a society loses its light the only thing left is darkness. We have rejected our maker and we will pay a dear price !....and are already starting to taste the dark fruits of demise.

Kylie Tinnock Kylie Tinnock 5:29 pm 27 May 21

Of course it should still be in our school system

wbrighton wbrighton 5:16 pm 27 May 21

It is easy to depict religion as an inconvenience today. Perhaps what is needed is better values education. Values underpin everything in our society. Many secular values are hidden – like efficiency and productivity. I’m rather thankful that inconvenient religious people are some of the strongest advocates around in disability, refugees, poverty, disarmament and equality for women. Helping religious people think about whether their tradition is living out from their best values is always worthwhile.

Ruth Donnellan Ruth Donnellan 5:06 pm 27 May 21

Religion has no place being in public schools, if you want your kid to learn those stories send them to a religious school!

ChrisinTurner ChrisinTurner 4:51 pm 27 May 21

Separation of state and church should be followed. Private schools are a blight on our democracy as recently demonstrated in Sydney. Certainly taxpayers should be expected to fund private schools. Look at other countries.

Ashley Latimer Ashley Latimer 3:56 pm 27 May 21

The answer is; it shouldn't.

Nick Barry Nick Barry 3:55 pm 27 May 21

Delete this lol

Capital Retro Capital Retro 3:50 pm 27 May 21

Richard Orchard said: “If you want though you can close steel, aluminium, and concrete factories here, and move all the emissions to China.”

That has already happened Richard but you never see the climate alarmists demonstrating outside the Chinese Embassy, do you? At least the Falun Gong people used to.

russianafroman russianafroman 3:50 pm 27 May 21

It’s (insert current year), why haven’t we (insert opinion)?

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