Buddhist Council of NSW Inc.
Special Religious Education Program
The Buddhist Council of New South Wales (the Buddhist Council) exists to:
- Serve and assist member organisations (more than 80 temples and Buddhist organisations);
- Represent the Buddhist community to government departments, media, religious groups and other NGOs; and
- Promote the understanding and practice of Buddhist teachings.
The Buddhist Council’s Special Religious Education (SRE) program fulfils the third objective.
The Buddhist Council’s Responsibilities
According to the SRE policy of the NSW Department of Education the Buddhist Council is responsible for Buddhist SRE in New South Wales. This authority requires that the Buddhist Council:
- Provide sufficient SRE teachers and informing the principal when SRE teachers are not available for the school
- Authorise volunteer teachers to teach Buddhism in government schools
- Ensure that the school is informed of the names and contact details of authorised SRE teachers
- Authorise the materials and pedagogy (approach) used by SRE teachers
- provide information about the content of lessons when requested by parents/caregivers
The Intention of Buddhist SRE
The intention of Buddhist SRE is for young people to gain a foundation in values and life skills. This is not to exclude the learning of facts about the Buddha’s life or the learning of key teachings, as these are important also. As the teaching of SRE can be challenging, some children may learn very little. So, if children are to retain anything from their SRE class it is more important to genuinely feel Buddhist values and be able to use these values in skilful ways in day-to-day life (hence life skills). In the long run, values and life skills will help in building self-confidence and meaning.
The other key lesson in Buddhist SRE is understanding the link between being a Buddhist and Going for Refuge. Children should come to an understanding that being a Buddhist comes from the inside and is a personal choice, to Go for Refuge in the Triple Gem, or Three Jewels (the Buddha, his teachings and the spiritual community which supports that teaching). In other words, it can be more important to a young person to know what it is to be a Buddhist, than to learn about Buddhism.
Policy for the Selection and Accreditation of Volunteer Teachers
The SRE programme of the Buddhist Council of NSW (BC) operates in accordance with legislation enacted by the New South Wales Department of Education and Training. This policy is set to meet the guidelines under that legislation and to ensure that Buddhist education in primary schools is of the highest standard.
In order to become an SRE teacher, applicants must:
- Complete a Prohibitive Employment Declaration Form;
- Submit a letter of reference from a member of the sangha or appropriate person who certifies that the applicant is a practicing Buddhist;
- Sign acceptance of the Volunteer Charter;
- Agree to the conditions outlined in the ‘Guidelines’ section of the BC website;
- Attend an ‘Introduction Workshop’ for new teachers conducted by the BC;
- Participate in a mentoring programme overseen by members of the Education team (negotiable).
The Education team will liaise with new teachers in making a school assignment which is suitable to the requirements of all parties. The teacher will be issued with a letter of authority and/or a card which is to be carried at all times while the teacher is at the school in an SRE teacher capacity.
The BC holds several in-service workshops per year. Each teacher is expected to attend at least one of these workshops. Out of pocket expenses incurred by teachers may be eligible for reimbursement; claims should be submitted to the SRE Coordinator.
Applying to become a Teacher
If you are interested in becomming a SRE teacher please Contact Us. You will also need to fill out the following forms and return them to us:
- Volunteer Charter (DOWNLOAD HERE)
- Volunteer Declaration (DOWNLOAD HERE)
- Referal Letter (DOWNLOAD HERE)
To provide Buddhist SRE teachers some guidance in their approach to teaching Dharma to children, the Buddhist Council uses the authority of the Buddha’s own teaching (Anguttara Nikaya V.159).
- Gradual. Teachers should use a logical and step-by-step approach, taking account of the current level of understanding of the children.
- Showing Causality. Teaching the reality of cause-and-effect can help any age group to understand the basics of the Buddha’s teachings.
- Compassion. Teaching Dharma can help young people to lead a better life and can help them to overcome suffering.
- Not for Financial Gain. Dharma should not be taught for personal financial gain. This does not preclude teachers being compensated by the Buddhist council for out-of-pocket-expenses.
- Without Disparaging. Dharma should be taught without disparaging oneself or others. This means showing respect to all Buddhist traditions and even to other faith traditions.
Meditation is a fundamental practice of Buddhism. In particular, it can be beneficial to young people. Notwithstanding the importance of meditation practice and it benefits, there will always be some risk, however small, that a child may, during meditation, experience something unpleasant.
As the organisation responsible for how Buddhist SRE is conducted, the Buddhist Council must make a judgement on the use of meditation in the SRE class. There are many forms of meditation taught by qualified meditation teachers to adults. The guidance we give must therefore be applicable to all SRE teachers, regardless of how experienced or inexperienced they may be.
The guidance we give to our SRE teachers is that there are only two forms of meditation approved for SRE classes, namely, watching the breath (anapanasati) and loving kindness (metta) meditation.
Ultimately, the Buddhist council puts its trust in SRE teachers to use their wisdom and discretion to use meditation in a way that minimises risks to each and every individual in the class.
Teachers sometimes ask whether to use Pali, Sanskit or English equivalents when teaching SRE. The guidance we offer is as follows:
- Use the English language equivalent where possible for example compassion rather than karuna
- Use the more popular term when choosing between Pali and Sanskit, for example metta (pali) rather than maitri (Sanskrit)
- Use the more obvious form of spelling for those who are Western educated, for example, karma (Sanskrit) rather than kamma (Pali) and Dharma (Sanskrit) rather than Dhamma (pali)
Common Issues in Buddhist SRE
Here are some further points which may help SRE teachers.
- Stick to the Core. Different traditions originating from different countries will differ in specific practices and interpretations of doctrine. Teachers are urged to cover material where the different traditions agree (e.g. morality and kindness) rather than where they may differ (e.g. realms of existance and the various festivals)
- Composite classes. Many Buddhist SRE classes are composite classes made up of students from two or more year groups. This can mean that the older children are ahead of the younger ones. Try to arrange class activities (e.g. groups of four or five), where the older children guide or lead the younger ones.
- Language and ethnicity. Some children may have difficulty in understanding the teacher due to a difference in language background, accent or pronunciation. The ethnicity of some families can mean that parents teach their children something which differs from what the SRE teacher is teaching. A good approach here is to stay close to the material which is common to different traditions. The problem is also minimised by teaching values in preference to doctrine.
- Poor behaviour and discipline. Some classes are badly behaved. When this happens, have a word with the school’s SRE coordinator (the Principal or Deputy Principle) as well as other SRE teachers to find out what works and what is acceptable at that school.
- Faith vs Science. Some children come from a family which emphasises faith (especially families practicing Pure Land Buddhism), whereas other children will exhibit a more scientific, or sceptical attitude towards the mystical or mythical aspects of Buddhism (e.g. Sidharttha Gautama speaking at birth). This could cause debate or heated discussion between students and with the SRE teacher. Present the Buddha’s teaching as something which combines and requires faith (confidence) and a scientific and objective outlook (e.g. Kalama Sutta)
Responsibilities of SRE Teachers
The school, the parents and Buddhist Council depend upon the SRE teacher to:
- Notify the school of absences from the regular SRE roster, in advance
- Keep the Buddhist Council up to date regarding any change of circumstances (e.g. withdrawal from SRE program, change of address, any difficulties). This should be done through the SRE Coordinator, or the Buddhist Council office (if unavailable)
- Sign a prohibitive employment declaration which states that the teacher has no criminal conviction for a crime against a minor; violence; sexual assault, or the provision of a prohibited drug