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  • David Hines

Religion in schools programmes take a dive

Three kinds of Christian bias in state schools

Christian religious instruction programmes in state schools have taken a dive, with only 15.63% of schools having them, compared to 21% a year ago.

There’s been a similar trend in Christian religious observances in school assemblies, with only 7.80% holding these. check this figure from 2021

But newcomers to the game, Christian karakia, are now used in 17.83% of schools, making them slightly ahead of the proportion of schools with religious instruction.

70% of schools respond to survey

I conducted the survey online, using SurveyMonkey software, and got answers from only 70.2% of the country’s schools with students in Years 1 to 8.

Ministry interested in "opt-in" results

Just before I started this survey (in October 2021) I called Ministry of Education Policy leader Ben O'Meara on another matter, and he asked if I knew how religious instruction had changed since they passed the new opt-in law in 2020. (The law said children must not be placed in these programmes unless their parents have explicitly opted them in)

At that stage I didn't know, but I said I'd include this the survey. There were three main results:

  • Of the schools that responded “yes” to the religious instruction question, 84.92% found this was helpful for parents, compared with 3.91% who answered “no”.

  • It was not a big problem for staff. Only 39.05% said it meant more paperwork for them.

  • On average, they reported that 58% of the eligible students were opted in.

  • However, the crunch opinion was that 0nly 38.9% said it was a significant improvement overall.

Since these questions applied only to schools that have RI, the number base for these questions was only 179, so I would not put too much weight on this group of answers. However 152 schools saying that parents like the opt-in system, and only 7 not liking it is probably still significant.

Religious observances crash, but this could be due to Covid

I believe it is significant that the number of schools with religious observances has also crashed, but point out that the likely reason is that the Covid emergency has led to many schools not having assemblies at all. (That was the result of a survey I conducted a year ago, which asked schools for reasons for a similar decline.)

Are Christian karakia discriminatory?

The Government, in a set of guidelines in 2019, said it was difficult to advise whether karakia are religious or not. My survey took a different approach: if we are looking at the issue of discrimination, the relevant issue is not whether they are religious, but whether they are Christian (After all, not all Christian activities are religious; not all Buddhist practices are religious, so it is no big deal how many karakia are religious).

Another relevant issue, I thought: I felt the schools themselves should be allowed to say which karakia they regarded as Christian. So I framed it by first asking which schools have karakia. Then for those that replied "yes" I asked which of these they regarded a Christian. As a result of this procedure, 226 replied that their programme did include Christian karakia, and several hundred of them gave samples of the karakia they regarded as Christian. I haven't analysed these yet, but it was conspicuous that two common examples of their “Christian” karakia were the Lord’s Prayer and a Biblical blessing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit from the New Testament (all translated into Te Reo).

I was surprised that they regarded these as karakia at all, but I think they are very clearly Christian, and to me it is also clear that they have no place in state schools.


1. I believe the government made a huge mistake when it ignored religious observances and Christian karakia in its review of religious parts of the Education and Training Act 2020. These are arguably worse forms of religious bias than religious instruction, because they are part of the regular school curriculum and therefore harder for a non-Christian student to avoid (compared with religious instruction which is technically not part of the school programme at all).

2. I hope that this survey will be helpful when the government is considering the report of Prof Paul Morris into religious instruction. As part of his review of religious instruction he conducted a survey of religious and non-religious leaders, and this included questions about Christian observances as well as religious instruction.


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