Buddhism scripture teachers struggling to keep up with demand from state schools

Update: 17/12/2016
New South Wales public schools are struggling to keep up with demand for Buddhism scripture teachers

Buddhism scripture teachers struggling to keep up with demand from state schools


New South Wales public schools are struggling to keep up with demand for Buddhism scripture teachers.

Buddhist Council of New South Wales chairman Brian White said there were more than 3,000 public school students across the state studying Buddhism, and the number was growing rapidly.

"It's driven by a few things — general raising of awareness in meditation right across society and how beneficial that can be, and the realisation that even six and seven-year-olds can meditate for a few minutes and benefit from that," Mr White said.

Mr White said the council, which trains Buddhism scripture teachers, had 70 teachers volunteering in New South Wales public schools, but at least 60 more were needed.

"We have a waiting list of schools across the state and we're being contacted all the time by different schools that need Buddhist teachers for their classes," he said.

One of the schools experiencing high demand for Buddhism classes is Byron Bay Public in northern New South Wales.

More than 150 children are enrolled in Buddhism at the school, representing more than a quarter of the student population.

Program co-ordinator Emily Coleling has posted a callout in the parent newsletter asking for more volunteer teachers to help meet the demand.

"I think we're probably in quite an open-minded area, the Northern Rivers, and Buddhism is a fast-growing religion," she said.

"A lot of the children actually go from one scripture class to another, so Buddhism is one they'll experience, then they might go to Ba'hai or Christian or ethics and then they can choose for themselves — so that indicates an open-mindedness on the part of the parents in this area too."

Buddhism popular Australia-wide

Senior lecturer in sociology of religion at Deakin University Anna Halafoff said the figures reflected 2011 census data showing Buddhism as the second largest religion in Australia behind Christianity.

Radio National takes a look at the state of religious education in schools.

"There are significant numbers of people who have converted to Buddhism or who practice what some scholars have called 'nightstand Buddhism', as in you might not say you're a Buddhist but you might be interested in meditation, or you might read books by the Dalai Lama," Dr Halafoff said.

"I think Buddhism has widespread popularity in Australia and I think part of that is to do with the public profile of His Holiness the Dalai Lama who is viewed very positively in Australia."

Scripture rules vary

Religious education rules in government schools vary by state in Australia, with Victoria removing Special Religious Instruction from its curriculum earlier this year.

However, Federation of Australian Buddhist Councils president Cecilia Mitra said the demand in New South Wales would be replicated across the country if Buddhism was readily available at all government schools.

"Principals are not really contacting the Buddhist centres and, to me, the study of different religions is very important in schools."

ABC North Coast - Samantha Turnbull

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