Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions
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2009 Parliament

Australian Schools: Teachers, Students and Educators

What is in for Teachers and Students?

The Parliament program provides a major professional development opportunity for teachers involved in educating students in values, world religions and interreligious/intercultural studies.
At the 2009 Parliament, there were sessions of specific benefit to teachers at all levels of the educational curriculum: primary, secondary (lower and upper), and tertiary. Senior secondary school (high school) students and university students found the experience of direct value to their studies.


There were sessions relevant to education of every day of the 2009 Parliament. However, Monday 7 Dec 2009 was a day particularly devoted to educational themes and issues. On this day there were a number of targeted specialised programs on this day for high school students, university students and youth in general, culminating in the evening Youth Plenary. Please see our Youth Program Webpage.

These sessions included:

The Hon Brownyn Pike MP

Convening Education Session: Schooling, Young People and Social Inclusion

Introduced by the Victorian Minister for Education, The Hon Brownyn Pike MP
Captain Genevieve Peterson, Salvation Army
Maria Minto-Cahill, Catholic Education Office, Melbourne.
Helen Butler, Australian Catholic University.

Serving the educational and other needs of students from disadvantaged communities requires sophisticated policy responses from both government and non-government schools. The Salvation Army has experience with students who must deal with homelessness, addiction, unemployment, incarceration, single parenthood and sustained poverty. In this seminar, they connected with the program response of Melbourne’s Catholic Education Office which has developed a graduate teachers' diploma focusing on Student Well-Being in Inclusive Schooling. Leaders and graduates of this program gave an account of their efforts to address the underlying poverty and justice issues

Jewish, Christian and Muslim Association (JCMA) - A Working Model of Interfaith In Action

Archdeacon Philip Newman,
OAM is Archdeacon for Christian Unity and Relations with the World's Religions, he is Chair of Shelford Girls' Grammar Board, and Locum Priest, St Andrew's Corio, Melbourne
Di Hirsh is an Interfaith and Intercultural Chair of the National Council of Jewish Women of Australia
Mark Pedersen is an Australian-born Muslim and has been active in interfaith dialogue over the past fifteen years
Rev Dr Paul Tonson of the Uniting Church was one of the first members of JCMA, following several years on the executive of the Council of Christians and Jews (Vic)
Khaled Khalafalla is a journalist intern for The Age after completing studies at Monash University
Janette Witt is the Jewish Christian Muslim Association Schools Program Coordinator

This program introduced participants to the Jewish-Christian-Muslim Association of Australia. JCMA has developed into a multifaceted organisation since its first Melbourne conference in 2004. This was initiated by Rabbi Jonathan Keren-Black, based on the pattern of a well-established conference in Germany. Such conferences have since been run annually and now an annual Women's Conference is also held. JCMA conducts programs in primary and secondary schools to tackle prejudice and promote harmony through educating children about the Abrahamic Faiths. Other opportunities for interfaith dialogue occur through Sunday afternoon seminars and the recently launched group, GreenFaith, which encourages members to actively address environmental problems.

The JCMA Session was divided into two parts. The first part was an introduction to JCMA, its history, principles and practices, and activities. The second part presented the Schools programs, Primary and Secondary, which have proved enormously popular among thousands of students and their teachers across private and state schools in Victoria during the last four years.

Talking Faiths: Your story, my story and our story, across schools and the worldwide web

Rev Dr Tim McCowan - Founding director of Building Bridges, Director of Reconciliation and Peacemaking at the WellSpring Centre
Catherine Devinne - Coordinator of the Melbourne Interfaith Intercultural Cluster of Schools
Jan Molloy - joined the Immigration Museum as the Humanities Programs Co-ordinator 

This interactive workshop showcased two successful experiential programmes of interfaith and intercultural dialogue occurring in secondary schools across Melbourne, Building bridges through interfaith dialogue in schools and Intercultural cluster Socratic circles, and how, with the support of the Immigration Museum, interfaith dialogue can be promoted into the wider community through the Museum’s talking faiths exhibit and website. Both programmes operate in Independent, Catholic and government schools. This workshop involved a multimedia presentation and web resources outlining each programme, the exhibit at the Museum, input and interaction with students, teachers and facilitators involved, small group discussions, a Socratic circle demonstration and how others can get involved.

Global and Interreligious Education through Peer-to-Peer and Online Learning in Australian and USA Schools

Rev. Ed Hubbard, Clergy member of the Correllian Nativist tradition and public religious educator
Richard Prideaux, Teacher, and students, Beaconhills College, Berwick, Melbourne

With the advent of the internet and the other new technologies, new forms of teaching and learning have become possible in providing access to education and deepening human knowledge. One aspect is through peer-to-peer learning which involves the sharing of knowledge, and in online schools, this becomes possible beyond the confines of the school. This interactive workshop provided internet and software solutions to educational needs, and participants will receive a free Software package. The session concluded with an example of online learning from Year 8 students from Beaconhills College in Melbourne who have taken an online course in world religions, looking especially at Aboriginal religions, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism.

Best Practices in Interfaith Youth Work: Religious Schools and Community-based Programs Respond

Associate Professor Kathleen Engebreetson, Australian Catholic University, Melbourne
Janet Penn, Founder and Director of Interfaith Action, Inc. (IFA) in Sharon, Massachusetts and the creator of IFA's Youth Leadership Program and the Sharon Pluralism Network

The workshop established conceptual models for best practices in inter-faith work with youth: both in the religiously affiliated school and in a dynamic community-base program. Prof. Engebretson explores inter-faith education at the primary and secondary levels as a conversation between life worlds. The pedagogical implications of the model were developed in discussion and through the use of up to four different approaches to pedagogy for inter-faith education. In learning about and appreciating other religions children and young people grow in a sense of justice. As they learn about various religious traditions other than their own, they recognise the humanity of those who practise them so that community is enhanced. Through such study their own spirituality is nurtured and expanded through being brought into conversation with the spirituality of others. Ms. Penn presented the core principles and methodology that guides Interfaith Action's successful teen-led Youth Leadership Program, including the multi-layered training that empowers high school students to plan and facilitate interfaith dialogue, school programs, national and international conferences, and community interfaith celebrations. Ms. Penn shared examples of best practices, community collaborations, and a vision for the international high school interfaith movement that is built upon teens analyzing barriers to cooperation and creating solutions through youth-led dialogue and action.

Spiritual Education and Inter-religious Learning for Primary (Elementary) and Secondary Students

Helen Nichol, Educator, The Erasmus School, Melbourne
Elizabeth Mellor, Co-director Biame Network Inc., international workshop facilitator and author, Melbourne
Peta Goldburg, Professor of Religious Education at Australian Catholic University
Sue Smith, Buddhist Education in Victorian Schools Program and Victoria University, Melbourne

These presentations invited participants to engage interactively with various approaches to spiritual education and inter-religious learning with primary and secondary school stuents. Children look for inner meaning and wider connections with the world to develop their sense of belonging, well-being and resilience. Inter-religious learning and these experiential approaches complement each other. Such teaching can provide an internal structure for the future adult to build his or her own spiritual/religious being. Understanding the changing needs of the maturing child is crucial. Panel members presented some practical approaches to spirituality education and inter-religious education within plural education frameworks.

Religion and Belief in Public Schools

Cathy Byrne, Ph.D. scholar at Macquarie University's Centre for Research on Social Inclusion
Virginia Burns, Ssecondary school teacher and a multifaith educator with Religions for Peace, Australia
Harry Gardner, Education director for the Victorian Humanist Society

Global processes are moving societies to become more religiously diverse, not least in traditional societies such as Greece. The first part of this seminar presented the situation in Greece and its schools, where educators have become aware of the need to change the content of religious education programs for contemporary times. The Greek situation was compared to the situation in Australian public and private schools. The conversation included a discussion of single-faith instruction, which is thought by some to increase religious intolerance, and will incorporate the perspective of a Humanist representative who advocates for the teaching of the Humanist perspective in public schools. Developing both an understanding of our world's diverse religious traditions and respect for people of diverse faiths and no faith is essential for both hearing each other and collaborating together to heal the earth.

Other Relevant Sessions on 7th December

Blogistan: Muslims Dialog Through New Media

In the last several years, Muslim Americans have become increasingly active online. More and more they are harnessing the full potential of New Media to combat stereotypes, racism, and ignorance. They have built followings among Muslims and non-Muslims, and their efforts serve as resources for education about Islam and Muslims. This panel discussed a variety of Muslim-American presences on the Internet (individual blogs, group blogs, online magazines) and the used of Web 2.0 applications such as Facebook and Twitter to impact conversations not only within the Muslim community, but also about the Muslim community. These traditions allow Muslims to represent themselves, but also to continue the age-old Muslim traditions of arguing and discussing the major issues of the day.

Hussein Rashid, Ph.D. candidate at Harvard University and author of the blog islamicate (
Wajahat Ali is a playwright, journalist, humorist, blogger and attorney. He is an Associate Editor of
Haroon Moghul is director of Public Relations for the Islamic Center at New York University.

Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement - Grassroots Development, Conflict Resolution and Education

How can sustainable empowerment for people be supported, so that local solutions can be made to the world's largest problems? A T Aryaratne spoke about his work in Sri Lanka, where Sarvodaya has reached over half the villages and supported over 11,000 villagers in helping themselves. Dealing with the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, shepherding local development projects including inspiring people to build schools, promoting biodiversity and sustainability measures, and digging wells, are some of the ways Sarvodaya helps communities meet their needs through principles of nonviolence and cooperation. Young people and their communities all around the world already engage in poverty reduction and human development. In these times of climate change and economic hardship, how can this local work be fostered and strengthened to play an ever larger part of the solutions? How can spiritual principles support this transformation to collaboration and to peaceful resolution of conflict? What is the role of education in this transformative work? And how can creative engagement be fostered, to reclaim local resources and local wisdom to meet urgent needs?

A T Ariyaratne is the founder and president of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement

The Role of Media in Conflict Resolution - Panel

The international media, with its global reach and powerful influence, can fan flames of conflict and misunderstanding, or it can help to quench them and bring illumination. This panel discussed possible strategies for utilising broadcast, print and Internet media outlets to promote and facilitate interfaith and intergroup understanding and dialogue; participants included journalists, educators, producers and activists.

Ahmed Rehab is an American Muslim activist and writer with a focus on civil rights, media relations and Islam-West relations
Paul Wee is presently adjunct professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University, Washington, DC
Hussein Rashid is a PhD candidate at Harvard University
Karen Hernandez-Andrews is currently pursuing a Master's of Sacred Theology in Religion and Conflict from Boston University School of Theology and teaches at educational institutions, churches and other organisations about Islam, global Christian-Muslim relations, Al Qaeda, and theological responses to terrorism and Islamophobia

Education Related Presentenations on Tuesday 8th December

The Centrality of Spirituality in Australian Indigenous Education

Dr. Nereda White and Aunty Joan Hendriks explored though this workshop the interconnectedness of spirituality and leadership drawing on their extensive experience in education, community and family life. Together they presented insights from post-colonial Indigenous women's perspectives, reflecting on the challenges and opportunities faced by Australia's Indigenous Communities in particular. They shared their experiences working at Australian Catholic University where the challenge is to support indigenous learners on both an academic and spiritual journey. Although we have seen significant growth in the number of Indigenous people attending university in recent years, the outcomes are still unsatisfactory, with lower progression and completion rates for Indigenous students than for other Australian students. This has raised many questions about the barriers, both personal and institutional, that Indigenous students encounter in their attempts to educate themselves. But it also raises concerns about whether we are meeting the full needs of Indigenous students and whether there is a need to place more emphasis on both the spiritual as well the intellectual growth of their students.

Dr Nereda White is a Gooreng Gooreng woman and Research Director of the Weemala Indigenous Unit of Australian Catholic University
Aunty Joan Hendriks is a respected elder of the Ngugi people of North Stradbroke Island Queensland Australia

Schools as an Expression of Faith - Many faiths in schools

The aim of the program was to provide participants with an experience of the approaches and conduct of multi faith religious education in Victorian Schools (primarily these will be independent schools with a connection to a Christian denomination). The program involved presentations from four schools (and the possibility of discussion, questions at the end):

  • Luther College: a co-educational school from eastern Melbourne. A Christian school, part of a strong network of Lutheran schools across Australia. Performances by a School Band and Choir. Mr. Brian Ahern, Social Justice Co-ordinator at Luther College, will lead the group.
  • St Columba's College, Essendon: a Catholic school for girls, founded by the Sisters of Charity. Dance performance as an expression of faith: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu. Ms Linda Henderson, Dance Teacher at St Columba's College will lead the group.
  • Caulfield Grammar School: a multi campus independent school, associated with the Anglican Church in Australia. Presentation of a film of a conversation between Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu and Christian students. Rev. Laurie Barton, Chaplain at the Wheelers Hill Campus, will lead the group.
  • Wesley College: a multi campus Independent school, associated with the Uniting Church in Australia. Presentation of a scripted demonstration of a multi faith religious education class lesson: 'teaching Islam in an Independent Schools. Dr. Nick Coleman, head of Learning: Religious Education and Ethics, will lead the group.
  • Minaret College, a multi campus independent co-educational Islamic school, serving the south eastern region of Melbourne. Since 9/11, the college has used effective strategies to protect and maintain social cohesion: respect, peace and harmony among the multi faith communities in Victoria. This presentation is regarding Minaret College’s inter faith dialogue with Anglican, Christian, Catholic, Jewish and State schools, plus other organisations in Victoria. Team leader: Salifu Baba, Assistant Principal, Curriculum.

Interpreting the Text: Creationism, Intelligent Design and Evolution

This year the scientific world is celebrating 200 years since the birth of Charles Darwin and 150 years since the publication of 'On the Origin of Species'. The theory of evolution through natural selection caught the religious world, Christian and Muslim, by surprise. It led to the development of creationism and intelligent design as alternative hypotheses based on literal interpretations of scripture. This panel of scientific and scriptural scholars will discuss the issues and the remaining challenges.

Prof Phil Batterham is an Associate Dean in the Faculty of Science at the University of Melbourne. He is the executive of the International Genetics Federation and vice-president of the Genetics Society of AustralAsia. Phil is a member of the Ministerial Advisory Council for Science and Mathematics Education. He is a co-author of the VCE Biology text, Biology 2 and a regular speaker on science in both primary and secondary schools.

Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen has a dual background in secular and religious studies. He founded the Institute for Judaism and Civilization in 1998, with the purpose of helping to bring together the two worlds of religious tradition and secular society in discussion and, ultimately, harmony.

John Buckeridge is the president of the International Society of Zoological Sciences. He also chairs the International Union of Biological Sciences Bioethics Committee and has worked as an advisor to the UNESCO Commission for Ethics in Science and Technology.

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