Independent Schools Guide 2018: Religious or secular?

Photo: iStock

Photo: iStock

Many Australian families are religious. In fact, 59.4 per cent of us claimed affiliation to a religion in the 2016 Census. So it’s no surprise that religion becomes part of the deliberation when it comes to parents choosing a school.

Of all the independent (private) schools in Australia, 94 per cent have a religious affiliation, according to figures from The Independent Schools Council of Australia. That means, for some, the choice may not be simply between a religious and secular school, but between religious schools themselves.

Associate Professor Helen Proctor, a researcher into the history of education in Australia with The University of Sydney, says the research suggests some parents are choosing religiously affiliated schools for reasons other than religion.

Photo: iStock

Photo: iStock

“That’s largely because there are few secular private schools in Australia,” Proctor says, “and if people are attracted by the religious affiliation of a school, it is often about what they perceive to be religious values or ethos rather than faith-based religiosity.”

Parents are looking at what schools can offer, not only academically, but also in terms of social justice – how their children can learn to give back, raise funds and be of service to the community.

Xavier College in Kew in Melbourne’s inner south-east is a Jesuit Catholic School that includes strong religious studies and social justice programs as part of the curriculum. Students are encouraged to volunteer and raise funds, locally and internationally.

Rector of the school, Father Chris Middleton, says the knowledge of religion is not only important in terms of shaping the lives and ethos of students, but is also “central to understanding where we come from [as humans].”

“In our Western culture, so much of our law, human rights and social structures have their origin in the Judeo-Christian tradition,”
Father Middleton says.

“Similarly, our music, literature, art, drama, education and science were in many ways shaped by Christianity … religion remains a powerful force in our world, and to understand our world you need to understand the role and teachings of religions.

“For example, an understanding of Islam is fundamental to understanding the Middle East, Christianity is important in understanding American politics or African societies, Hinduism is important in understanding modern India, and so on.”

While nearly a quarter of Australian students are educated in Catholic schools, there are still those who are taught in private, secular schools where religious studies are not part of the day to day.

Ruyton Girls’ School is a non-denominational school, not too far from Xavier College. While religion is not part of the curriculum, the school has a strong set of values that it promotes through each year level.

Principal Linda Douglas says the school encourages students to give back and raise their voices where they are needed.

“Our Community Service and Sustainability Programs encourage our girls to take on new challenges, collaborate, take action, consider ethical implications, develop new skills and engage with issues of local and global importance,” Douglas says.

“Through volunteer work, awareness raising and their own initiatives, they experience the value of raising their voices and taking action to ensure equity and justice for self and others.”

 

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