Dr Catherine Byrne is a ethics class volunteer at Lennox Head Public School.
Dr Catherine Byrne is a ethics class volunteer at Lennox Head Public School. Cathy Adams

Ethics class an option to religion

RELIGIOUS Studies expert Dr Cathy Byrne has pledged her support for ethics classes to continue being taught in NSW public primary schools.

In 2010, ethics classes were rolled out to years 5 and 6 in state primary schools as an alternative to religious scripture classes which were taught for 30 minutes each week. Ethics classes have since been fiercely opposed by NSW Christian Democrat MP Fred Nile, who said they instil Nazi and Communist ideologies in children.

Dr Byrne recently presented her argument for the continu- ation of ethics classes at the NSW Parliamentary Enquiry into Ethics Classes in Sydney.

She argued many children who opted out of scripture classes did almost nothing for half an hour and needed an alternative.

"They have to have a non-religious option. The ethics classes are an alternative that's not religious but similarly looks at right and wrong and ethics. Children who aren't learning about right and wrong in a religious sense can learn about it in a secular situation," she said.

Religious, humanist and rationalist groups have also presented their cases to the committee.

Curriculum for the ethics classes was created by Primary Ethics, a subsidiary of non-profit organisation St James Ethics, and volunteers teach it in primary schools.

Dr Byrne has taught ethics classes at Lennox Head Public School since 2011.

"We look at legal obligations and arguments in the classes, the moral right and wrong of those and consequences that may not be thought of initially," she said.

Many church groups originally opposed the classes, Dr Byrne said.

"They were fighting it originally because they thought they'd lose students to those classes but that hasn't appeared to have happened. They've also examined the curriculum and see that there's no consensus-building in ethics classes."

Dr Byrne said children learn how to think critically in ethics classes.

"Critical thinking skills are one part of education that is going to be crucial. The world is changing and children have to be able to navigate a lot of different information and a lot of different opinions," she said.

A decision on whether ethics classes will continue is expected in July.



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