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10th Anniversary of Victoria’s Religious Instruction in Schools Program


On 22 November, the Buddhist Council of Victoria (BCV) celebrated the 10th anniversary of the “Special Religious Instruction” (SRI) in schools program at the Buddhist Society of Victoria.

This landmark achievement was celebrated following the BCV’s 18th Annual General Meeting and attended by monastic and lay delegates from more than 40 member temples. After the formalities, it was a wonderful opportunity for the Buddhist practitioners from the various traditions to catch up, mingle, and get to know each other while enjoying a delicious vegetarian banquet.

The SRI program, which began in early 2005 and is run by the state government, now has 13 participating schools across the metropolitan area that hold weekly Buddhist classes. The program is open to schools upon request. Buddhist religious instruction classes are open to all children in participating schools where parents have specifically asked for it and when the school has sufficient rooms or resources, such as a supervising teacher, which is required by law. Children must have their parents’ permission to attend any particular religious instruction.

The Buddhist communities involved in the establishment of the Buddhist program and initial steering committee included members of the Vietnamese, Chinese, Laotian, Cambodian, Sri Lankan, Tibetan, and Anglo-Australian ethnic groups from the Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana traditions. The program is managed and overseen by the SRI committee of the BCV, which is composed of representatives from the various Buddhist traditions and cultures with expertise in education and project planning.

The SRI program’s instructors are all volunteers, and come from a wide range of local Buddhist communities. They include both monastic and lay teachers, and require a recommendation by a senior Buddhist teacher or senior member of a Buddhist community. Each instructor completes a 15-hour training course that includes two workshops, school visits, and class observation, and must have a knowledge of Buddhism sufficient to teach primary-school children.

The teaching resource used by all SRI Buddhist instructors is Discovering Buddha, which is a comprehensive manual developed by the BCV education program to provide a range of lesson plans and activities for teachers to use in each class. This rich compendium of stories, meditations, and creative activities engages both teachers and students in learning about Buddhism and in developing greater self-awareness, wisdom, and compassion. It contains information about the basic teachings of Buddhism, the life of the Buddha, Jataka tales and other stories of virtuous actions, meditation, and special days and festivals, as well as many fun activities. The classroom strategies in Discovering Buddha complement the Victorian Essential Learning Standards, in particular those related to personal learning, interpersonal development, and thinking processes.

“This great initiative and program enables us Dharma teachers to touch the young students’ minds in such a positive way,” says Venerable Gontug Rinpoche, one of the SRI volunteer teachers, adding, “If we want to bend wood, we must do it when it is young, not old and brittle. Likewise, the young mind is very open and pliable. The students look forward to each lesson. They are very enthusiastic, and very easy to teach.”

The program is endorsed and supported by “Religions for Peace Australia” and the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood, as well as the BCV. It delivers quality non-sectarian Buddhist education, contributing to the spiritual development of every child and helping them develop the wisdom and compassion required to be part of a harmonious and peaceful community. In keeping with contemporary educational approaches, lessons are built around cooperative and active learning, respecting and drawing on the children’s own experiences.

The BCV has been operating and serving Buddhist temples, groups, and organizations in Victoria since 1995. Its principal activities include Healthcare and Prison Chaplaincy programs as well as the SRI schools program, and it also acts as a unifying body to represent the many organizations that make up the Buddhist community, liaising with local, state, and federal government departments, interfaith groups, and other organizations on behalf of its members.

In the near future, the BCV plans to produce publications on Buddhism and to develop a Buddhist library and resource center.

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