Remote schools across western NSW are being approached about the possibility of introducing Special Religious Education (SRE) classes by distance education.
Generate Ministries – an employer of SRE teachers in NSW – is teaming up with Bush Church Aid to offer scripture lessons in schools where they are currently not offered. Currently only 60-70 per cent of NSW school students have access to SRE lessons, which “leaves open a massive deficit of students who don’t have the opportunity to attend SRE,” says James Flavin, the general manager of Generate Ministries.
Flavin says, “we’ve done a good job [of providing SRE] in regional locations, but in ‘dusty boots’ territory we need to have more innovation. We want to put together a solution that is going to help the mums and dads who want their kids to go to SRE to be able to go to SRE.”
Part of this new plan was that the classes would be taught from a school in Dubbo, and broadcast to the schools via the NSW Department of Education intranet.
But Flavin says, “We are pushing video conferencing to the back burner because schools have asked for greater flexibility in their timetabling.”
Instead, the lessons will initially comprise short videos of teaching material, interviews of Christians from the region and worksheets engaging with the lesson material.
Peter Volkofsky, the new Distance Scripture Education teacher, says, “my job is to support people running the scripture sessions in those regions, to visit churches and help them find volunteers, and to provide really good quality resources so volunteers can walk into classroom with all the resources they need for that lesson.”
Currently five schools across western NSW have signed up to participate in the new programme that will be rolled out this term. Based in Dubbo, Volkofsky says that he’ll probably try to visit each school twice a term in the early stages of implementation.
Many of the students who will be the recipients of these new SRE lessons are Aboriginal and so Volkofsky says the lessons will draw on the lived experiences of both rural and Aboriginal Christians. The teachers will also be encouraged to draw on their own experiences of being a Christian as they teach the class.
Flavin says, “generally a lot of the folks we’re talking about are indigenous, and we want to learn from the experiences of godly people [in far west NSW] to package lessons in a sensible way that doesn’t reinvent the wheel.”
Volkofsky says that the new programme has been given Bibles from the Bible Society, and that they’ll be getting students to read out passages from the Bible and discuss them. “The worksheets are the meeting point between the video story and the Bible,” says Volkofsky.
“Our goal is that students understand the Biblical message and have a deep curiosity about the Bible,” says Flavin.