Bahá'í classes in Australian schools growing
The classes were first taught 15 years ago and have since spread to Northern Territory, Queensland, Victoria, and Western Australia, where they are offered as an alternative within the religious education program in government schools.
While the classes were originally started by Bahá'í parents who wanted their children to learn about their own religion, almost 90% of the students now attending the classes come from families that do not profess the Bahá'í Faith.
According to the national education development officer, Judy Beames, many non-Bahá'í parents choose the classes for their children because they are attracted by the emphasis placed on the oneness of religion.
"The students are taught to respect all the major religions of the world and to understand that no matter what religion one has, we all worship the same God - only the name and form of worship differ," she said.
"We find that many parents who are not Bahá'ís themselves value this approach to religious education for their children."
Parents also appreciate the focus placed on the development of virtues such as kindness, honesty and love, Ms. Beames explained.
Bahá'ís believe that every child is a storehouse of virtues waiting to be developed," she said.
"By noticing when a child is practising a virtue, we support them in their spiritual environment.
"Bahá'ís believe that the development of spiritual qualities in individuals is the foundation of a peaceful world."
A Community Service
Ms. Beames stressed that the classes are offered as a service to the community, and do not seek to convert or indoctrinate the children.
"One of the fundamental principles of Bahá'í education is to facilitate the development of the capacity to think, independently and objecively, and actively seek truth by this means," she said. "So students are encouraged to question and explore."
Teachers of the classes are accredited and go through a standard approval process, which includes fulfilment of any state education department requirements. "Teachers are encouraged to undertake continuous training and we offer training courses on a regular basis," she said.
After serving as the national education development officer for the past five years, Ms Beames is about to take up a new position as moral education coordinator for the Bahá'í community of Tanzania.
She will be replaced in December by Kath Podger, a visual arts teacher and community artist from Sydney.
©Copyright 2002, Australian Bahá'í Report (December), publication of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Australia