Religious education builds resilience

Jodie McNeill

In school education, 'resilience' is the latest buzz-word. Teachers are seeking to learn more about how to build resilience in young people, so as to best prepare them for the inevitable challenges of life.

One of the interesting findings of recent research is that spirituality has been shown to be a key factor in helping people build this resilience.

In their 2005 Annual Review of Clinical Psychology article entitled 'The Psychobiology of Depression and Resilience to Stress', authors Southwick, Vythilingam and Charney conclude that "religion and spirituality may have protective effects on physical and emotional well-being among healthy individuals and may enhance coping in people who are suffering with medical illnesses" (p. 272) and that "religious practices buffer against the likelihood of developing depressive symptoms" (p. 273).

Like active sport, religion has a proven benefit to its participants. That's why we choose to include physical education in the school syllabus, even though it does not directly contribute to a student's academic results.

Many schools include aspects of religion and spirituality within the curriculum. These 'independent' schools are at liberty to teach whatever perspectives they might choose to embrace, given their obvious religious persuasion.

Yet, the teaching of any form of spirituality within our secular state system is problematic. If our educators wanted to teach religion, then how could they do so in such a way as to prevent the personal bias of the teacher? How could they promote any one religious faith without causing offense to the wide-ranging views of the parents in the school? How could they promote a genuine spirituality amongst the students if they were restricted to merely informing the class of the facts behind the different worldviews and religious faiths?

The only way a state school could teach spirituality would be for them to ask the local religious communities to send representatives to teach the children of their respective faiths. Given the financial pressures of our education system, it is likely that the school would be unable to pay for such specialist religious education. They would have no choice but to seek to recruit a mass army of volunteer teachers.

The effort required to do this would be huge. Teachers would need to be taught and accredited, and appropriate curriculum would need to be produced. The likelihood of our education system successfully implementing such a system would be narrow.

Yet, what I have just described is exactly what our NSW state school system currently enjoys with Special Religious Education (SRE).

SRE brings a smorgasbord of spirituality into our state schools. It is taught for free by skilled and passionate volunteers from the community. It offers the tools needed to help students form resilience in this pressured and chaotic world.

If SRE didn't exist, we'd invent it. So why would we ever want to lose it?

Jodie McNeill is the Executive Director of Youthworks Outdoors. Learn more about the threat to SRE by visiting

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