REGAINING FAITH: 'Eliminating fear is the key to inclusion'
A CLASS dedicated to teaching children about all religions could help create a more inclusive Clarence.
The Dean of Grafton Greg Jenks attended the Religious Communities Forum in Sydney last week to discuss the situation in Grafton in the wake of the Christchurch attack.
The forum, chaired by NSW Minister for Multiculturalism John Sidoti, hosted a presentation by University of Sydney emeritus professor Suzanne Rutland about introducing general religious education into all public schools.
Dr Jenks said educating children about different religions and cultures would address intolerance.
"The majority of Australian kids are still going to government schools," he said.
"Religion is too important to be left out of the curriculum."
Dr Rutland said keeping religion out of the public sphere can lead to extremism.
She said fundamentalist actions stem from a "fear of difference" which begins with a lack of education.
"You're having kids go through government schools without any understanding of what Islam is about," she said.
Multiculturalism was adopted in Australia in the 1970s and Dr Rutland said the policy needed an update.
"The focus on multiculturalism needs to be broadened to include religious differences," she said.
Currently all NSW Government schools allow time for students of a specific religion to undertake special religious education, however Dr Rutland said general religious education is just as valuable.
"Both are needed, GRE so kids can understand, not fear, but value, the different religions in Australian society," she said.
Dr Rutland said special religious education should not be compulsory, but general religious education should be.
She said there was an important distinction between teaching for religion and teaching about religion.
Special religious education provided a chance for religious students to discuss it in a safe space, whereas general religious education would allow students to understand cultures they may not otherwise see or learn about.
"You cannot teach spirituality when you teach about religion, because otherwise you would start promoting one religion over another," she said.
Dr Rutland said general religious education is particularly critical in regional areas that tend to be less diverse.