Adrian Piccoli, Minister of Education, has accepted the opinion of a committee, according to which ethics courses will be maintained as an alternative to the course of Special Religious Education, but considers it appropriate to disclose to parents the existence of such courses only after they have expressed their intention to opt-out of the religion classes:
"Ethics classes can be promoted," said Piccoli, "but what it means in a technical sense as such, that when parents are asked the question 'do you want your child to do special religious education', that's the first question that gets asked and if they say no then they say, 'well you can either do other things or you can do ethics classes'."Greens MP John Kaye has criticized this choice:
"Nothing in the Education Act, which was amended in late 2010 to include the right to have access to ethics, nothing in that act at all say we have to discriminate against ethics in this way." "(There's no need) to keep it hidden, in the back drawer, so that nobody knows about it at the time they make the decision."The news of the continuation of the classes was taken with relief by Simon Longstaff, a member of the St James Ethics Centre, the institution in charge of organizing the courses. Longstaff, however, was surprised by the decision to "obscure" the courses:
"There's something curious about not even telling people that an option exists until they have chosen something else. [...] It's a bit like having ethics classes within a sealed section within a magazine."The St James Ethics Centre recruits and organizes volunteers for the lessons, attended by 7000 students. The ethics courses, as those of religion, are paid for through donations; donations to religious classes, however, are exempted from taxes, and the St James is trying to get the same recognition for donations in favour of ethics courses.
The ethics courses were introduced in schools of New South Wales in 2010, after a period of experimentation. as an elective alternative to courses on religion (also optional). At the time they encountered the opposition of the association that brings together the managers of the various religious courses. Six months after it was revealed that almost half of the students had left the religious courses to attend to those of ethics. The success of the Australian ethics courses brought, a few months ago, to the proposal to establish similar courses in France.
«Parents 'left in the dark' about ethics classes», ABC News, December 5th, 2012.