Grannies go back to the classroom

Primary ethics need more volunteers in NSW public schools


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Primary Ethics volunteers Annie Bilton (left) and Sally Jope with (l-r) James Griffith, Elena Johnson, Sabine Johnson, Annabelle Griffith and Max Johnson at Umina Beach Public School. Photo: Andrea Buschner

Primary Ethics volunteers Annie Bilton (left) and Sally Jope with (l-r) James Griffith, Elena Johnson, Sabine Johnson, Annabelle Griffith and Max Johnson at Umina Beach Public School. Photo: Andrea Buschner

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Fancy heading back to school? Follow Annie and Sally's lead

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THEY may be well past their school days, but these Central Coast grandmothers are heading back into the classroom.

Annie Bilton and Sally Jope visit Umina Beach Public School every week to volunteer as ethics teachers.

The Umina school is one of 31 on the Central Coast that run ethics programs. The classes are run through not-for-profit organisation Primary Ethics.

They both say being an ethics teacher is a way to become more involved with their grandchildren’s education while helping young people develop critical thinking skills, learn how to reason and make better decisions. 

“This course teaches children how to make important decisions, using logic and reason, and how to respect the opinions of others. I wish I’d learned these skills at school” said Ms Bilton, in her 70s.

She said there is a “desperate need” for more volunteer teachers in primary schools across the Central Coast.

This course teaches children how to make important decisions, using logic and reason, and how to respect the opinions of others. I wish I’d learned these skills at school. - Annie Bilton, Primary Ethics volunteer

“There’s a growing number of parents wanting their children to benefit from ethics classes and not enough volunteer teachers to fill the vacancies.

“We’re lucky at Umina Beach Public School that we have teachers for every grade - and this year the demand for Year 2 has become so large we had to split the class into two.

Ms Jope, in her 60s, said volunteers stepping into the classroom as independent facilitators works well. 

“It frees up class teachers from having to fit this kind of activity into their week. Students learn that ethics is not a subject where they will be told the answers, but will be required to figure out answers for themselves,” she said.

In the classes, children are encouraged to take a “community of inquiry” approach to learn how to constructively puzzle over important questions.

“The topics are all engaging,” said Ms Jope, who teaches a Year 2 class at every week.

“We’ve just finished the topic ‘laziness’ and it was fascinating to see the students exploring the idea of ‘lazy thinking’.”

Students attend an ethics class at Hilltop Primary School in Merrylands. Photo: Wolter Peeters

Students attend an ethics class at Hilltop Primary School in Merrylands. Photo: Wolter Peeters

The growth of Primary Ethics in NSW is due to the hard work of volunteers like this – often parents, grandparents and community members.

All ethics teachers are give free, face-to-face and online training as well as ongoing support from Primary Ethics.

Ms Bilton said she would recommend ethics teaching to others.

“Yes there can be difficult moments in the classroom - engaging the class clown, for example - but the Primary Ethics team is really supportive, whether it’s helping us with behaviour management, or showing us more effective teaching methods,” said Ms Bilton, who teaches both a Year 2 and a Year 6 class.

About Primary Ethics

There are currently about 40,000 NSW children attending weekly ethics classes in 500 NSW schools.

Ethics classes run during the same period as Special Religious Education (SRE) and occur weekly in many public NSW schools, generally lasting for 30 minutes.

Around 2500 volunteers (1,700 ethics teachers and others in supporting roles such as ethics coordinator, regional manager, classroom support team member) help deliver the program.

“Ethics is a unique program, teaching vital skills, and a value-adding alternative to the ‘dead time’ that traditionally has been ‘non-scripture’,” said Ms Bilton.

The Primary Ethics curriculum covers 79 topics across all four stages of primary education. Each of the 245 lessons have been approved for age-appropriateness by the Department of Education.

Teacher training sessions are being held in Sydney on the first two weekends in December as well as a midweek session.

They'll be held every weekend throughout January, February and March at a range of locations including Sydney, Wollongong, Newcastle and the Central Coast.

From March 2019 Primary Ethics is also scheduling a number of sessions for regional areas, including the Central West, New England, Far North NSW, Mid North Coast, Wagga Wagga and South Coast of NSW.

If you’re interested in volunteering, contact Primary Ethics, 8068-7752 or visit primaryethics.com.au

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