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June 7, 2023

Editorial: Calling all ethics teachers

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Aslan Shand, deputy editor

Often people see religion as providing a moral guide on how to live their lives.

It can provide a basis for deciding what is the right or wrong action to take.

But this is not the only way to approach ideas or issues in our lives and the way we might respond to them.

Ethics education for children in NSW primary schools is an alternative to lessons in scripture or just hanging out in supervised care.

The ethics classes give children the opportunity to look at and examine their lives, how we live and the actions we take. 

By being introduced to reasoned arguments, values and principles rather than appealing to religion and cultural norms, children are able to develop skills to identify ethical issues.

It can enable respectful discussions.

‘The children can be very engaged in the topics we are talking about,’ said Cindy Alice who volunteers to teach ethics at Mullumbimby Primary School.

‘The kids became really excited about discussing if voting should be mandatory, and at the moment we are discussing punishment and if people would still do the right thing if there were none.’

Ms Alice said sometimes the children have become so engaged in the topics they are discussing that they’ve asked to come back in at lunch time to continue the debate.

Ethics classes help children develop the skills needed to make their own judgments about whether something is good or bad, and explain why, using evidence and reason to support what they think is the case. The teachers are trained not to teach the children their own personal ethics and values.

There are six local schools currently teaching, or about to start teaching, ethics.

‘Demand for ethics teachers always exceeds the supply of teachers,’ said Lee Marges who co-ordinates the ethics classes at Mullumbimby Primary School.

‘People from both the school community and the wider community are welcome to become volunteer ethics teachers,’ she said.

In early May, there is a training session for ethics teachers locally and they are currently looking to recruit more volunteer ethics teachers, so if you have the time and inclination, apply online at www.primaryethics.com.au or call Ms Marges on 0421 336 802 to explore the idea of what ethics teaching might involve.

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  1. I was an ethics teacher for a couple of years before moving to Victoria. Sadly there is no discrete ethics program in Vic primary schools but neither is there an RI system as propped up by Fred Nile in NSW.
    I really miss my sessions at Bangalow and Clunes primaries which was one of the most rewarding things I have done.
    If you have the time please consider joining this well supported discussion system with some amazing young people.

  2. I’d be scrutinising the teachers of ethics to make sure there are no bat wing crazies among them. There are enough already throghout the education system.

  3. Teaching Ethics is enormously rewarding. This term, the topics we looked at in Year 5 and 6 included voting (the right to vote, compulsory voting, the responsibility to consider the issues, etc), and then at punishment – what it is, how it needs to be proportionate, what it might or might not achieve. The kids are so bright and creative and thoughtful – after all the doom and cynicism in the news, I feel a new hope for the species at the end of each session.

    It’s a half hour class each week, and you spend another half hour beforehand (or more if you get interested) reading through the comprehensive course notes which you use to run the class. If you have the time and inclination, do it – you won’t regret it!

  4. I only know the basics of other religions so I can’t comment on them. However, what is unethical about Christianity when it is based on the Ten Commandments which cover all aspects of ethical life. Or, as Christ said, “ Love God and love your neighbour.? If everyone treated others as we would like to be treated then what a world we would have.


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