An ethics class in Earlwood yesterday had some extra special guests.
Shadow Minister for Education Mr Jihad Dib MP, along with former Premier and Minister for Education The Hon Nick Greiner, sat in a colorful classroom at Earlwood Public School and listened as volunteer ethics teacher Marta Tordi facilitated a discussion on fairness using the story of the Little Red Hen.
Children explained their reasons as to whether they thought different animals should get larger portions of bread depending on, for example, whether they had helped to sow or mill the wheat, or according to their size, or whether all portions should instead be divided equally. It was not entirely dissimilar to the current debate around school funding.
A strong supporter of local public schools, Jihad Dib recognises the role that community plays in making a thriving school environment, and believes volunteering as an ethics teacher is a great way to be involved in a school.
“It was good to see community volunteers giving their time and experience. Having English as a second language shouldn’t deter people who feel they may be able to contribute – especially in our very diverse public schools,” Mr Dib said. “I think there are a lot of people, such as parents, grandparents, who would like to be involved and I’d encourage them to feel confident.”
English is not Marta Tordi’s first language, and a number of the 22 students in her class are bilingual. But the children eagerly listen to the story, to Ms Tordi’s questions, and to each other as they explain their ideas about what might be a fair distribution of resources – in this case, bread. This is the second year that Ms Tordi has taught ethics classes at her children’s school.
“I learn so much myself while preparing for the lessons. It only takes me half an hour to read through each topic, but then I spend time discussing ideas with my husband, and pondering over the questions, which I find really interesting,” Ms Tordi said. “And it’s rewarding to see the children develop their thinking skills over the year. Like when they give an answer to a question, they will now automatically go on to explain their reasoning for their position without me having to ask them why.”
Ms Tordi teaches a half hour ethics lesson at the school at the same time each week.
Nick Greiner believes that we should be doing everything we can to give children an opportunity to learn the critical thinking, ethical reflection, and decision-making skills which are developed in Special Education in Ethics (SEE), whether that’s volunteering, becoming a donor, or spreading the word among friends and colleagues. Mr Greiner, also a donor, volunteers as a director on the Primary Ethics Board.
“One of the things we really need this government to do is to help families know that ethics is an option for their child,” Mr Greiner said. “And if your child’s school is not one of the 445 schools in NSW that already has an ethics program, Primary Ethics can help you start one.”
Ethics classes are an option for children who don’t participate in Special Religious Education (SRE) during the SRE/ SEE timeslot. Ethics classes are a skill development program and are open for children of any religious background or from none at all.
Primary Ethics Board members are among those who have written to the Department of Education asking them to act on the recommendations from the recently released report of the review into SRE/SEE. These recommendations include a review of the school enrolment form that enables parents to enrol their child in SRE but no longer into ethics.
“It defies any logic that a program of such value continues to be hidden from parents,” Mr Greiner said.
Primary Ethics is a tax deductible charity that receives no government funding. Visit primaryethics.com.au to find out more about the program or how you can be involved.