South Australia’s statement on public education omits ‘secular’

Si Gladman / 30 May 2023

Calls for South Australia to recommit to secularism as a foundational principle of public education appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

Following a public consultation process earlier this year, the state’s education department has released a draft ‘purpose statement for public education’, with the statement to help set the direction of the department and the future of public education.

The draft statement omits any reference to public education being ‘secular’, despite calls from the Rationalist Society of Australia for it to be re-adopted.

The RSA’s submission to the consultation process noted that the former Weatherill government’s ‘Foundation statement on public education’ outlined three foundational principles that should underpin public education: ‘Compulsory and free of tuition costs’; ‘Universality’; and ‘Secular’.

The Weatherill government’s ‘Foundation statement on public education’ said public schools could not be based upon a particular religious or cultural group. “As public institutions, they are necessarily secular and multicultural, teaching students to engage with, critically understand and respect different cultures and beliefs in our society,” it said.

The consultancy organisation that conducted the public consultation, Square Holes, noted in its report to the government a desire from the public for a “stated requirement for public education to remain secular and to be fully funded by government”.

The education department’s draft ‘purpose statement’, which is fewer than 200 words in length, argues that public education “is for every child and young person in every community across our state”.

It also talks about preschools and schools being “inclusive, and collaborative” and places where “their needs, interests and culture are recognised and supported”.

In the RSA’s submission, RSA president Meredith Doig noted that governments across Australia continued to undermine the secular nature of public schools, such as through the funding of chaplaincy programs that discriminate against non-religious workers and allowing religious instruction and other missionary activities in classes.

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