Special Religious Instruction

Definition & Background

Special Religious Instruction (SRI) refers to instructing religious beliefs and practices to state school students by religious groups. SRI is authorised by section 2.2.11 of the Education and Reform Act 2006.  The Act specifically allows for the provision of SRI at Victorian state schools.

Where there is demand for SRI by parents of students and accredited religious Instructors are available, the school is required to facilitate the provision of SRI classes within standard school hours as long as the Principal is satisfied that duty of care obligations can be met. SRI consists of weekly 30 minutes classes, and the Program Material will typically vary from year level to year level.

SRI has been offered in Victorian state schools for over 130 years. In 2005, following extensive public consultation, the Victorian Government published its 'Review of Education and Training Legislation‘ White Paper. The White Paper identified widespread consensus that the current practice of teaching SRI in government schools should continue.

SRI is not compulsory, and parents that wish their child to be taught the tenets of a religion must register their child in an SRI program. The school must appropriately supervise those children not attending SRI, and must ensure that the children are engaged in positive independent learning such as self-study or revision. Schools cannot run classes from the curriculum whilst SRI classes are being conducted. 

SRI is different from Chaplaincy, which is a national program that provides Chaplains in government schools to give care, advice, comfort and support to students and staff, irrespective of their religious beliefs. SRI is also different to general religious education (GRE) which is also covered by the Education and Reform Act 2006. GRE is education about the major forms of religious thought and expression characteristic of Australian society and other societies in the world and is provided by the classroom teacher.

SRI is taught in fewer than half of all state primary schools in Victoria. By far the largest SRI program is run by ACCESS Ministries, which offers Christian Religious Education (CRE) on behalf of a coalition of twelve Christian churches. The United Jewish Education Board (UJEB) manages the Jewish SRI program, and other faith groups also offer religious instruction. 

Islamic SRI

Islamic SRI is offered at only a handful of Victorian state primary schools. This is due to many reasons, including a general lack of awareness in the Muslim community that the teaching of Islam in schools is allowed. By contrast, Islamic SRI ('Scripture') classes have been offered at government schools for over twenty-five years in NSW, teaching nearly 20,000 students every week about Islam.

Based upon extrapolations from the 2006 Australian Census figures, it is estimated that there are between 20,000 - 25,000 Muslim children attending Victorian government schools (primary and secondary). For many of these children, Islamic SRI would represent the only opportunity to be taught about the basics of their faith, including its main tenets, values, and practices. Many families may not be able to send their children to Islamic schools or may prefer state schools, but still wish for their children to have an opportunity to learn about Islam in a well structured class-based context. 

Role of Arkan Toledo

Arkan Toledo is the official Islamic SRI Provider in Victoria and is responsible for the management and operation of the Islamic SRI program. This responsibility includes the recruitment, accreditation, and training of Volunteer Instructors, the engagement with schools to facilitate and schedule weekly Islamic SRI lessons, and the control of the approved standard Program Material and distribution of lesson material.

The Program Material has been developed by school teachers and principals, and is designed for Muslim children living in the West. The Program Material contains age appropriate lessons covering year levels 1 - 6, and includes topics based upon Aqeedah (faith or creed), Fiqh (jurisprudence), the Holy Quran, Hadith & Sunnah (authentic sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him (pbuh)), the Seerah (life of the Prophet Muhammad pbuh), the Sahabah (companions of the Prophet Muhammad pbuh), the Prophets and Messengers (peace be upon them all), Islamic History, Islamic morals, ethics, and values, and many other topics.