PARENTS and primary school students in Cooma will soon have an alternative to religious education lessons in public schools.
Already established at Jindabyne Central School at the beginning of the year, ethics co-ordinator Ian Cooke said about 100 students have taken up the option at the school.
"Ethics classes will be available soon at Cooma primary schools," Mr Cooke said.
"We already know there are a lot of parents that are interested and have approached us.
"Ethics sounds a serious topic for primary school children but it simply boils down to the question of 'what ought I do'?"
Mr Cooke said the curriculum is designed around a 45 minute lesson once a week during which the children are led by a trained volunteer teacher to discuss a topic of relevance to them .
"Primary Ethics is a volunteer organisation formed in response to parents requests to provide age appropriate ethics discussions for primary school children as an alternative to religious education," he said.
Children in the younger primary years examine topics such as being left out, sharing and bullying, while older children reflect on issues such as homelessness and child labour to help them consider the feelings and interests of others.
Mr Cooke said the curriculum has been developed by the St James Ethics Centre and has been approved by the Department of Education.
Primary Ethics has been growing over the last three years and has over 900 volunteers organising or teaching classes in 215 primary schools.
"There has been a lot of interest from parents and this has been backed up by keen volunteer teachers who have been trained and are ready to get started in Cooma North and Cooma Public Schools," Mr Cooke said.
In ethics classes, children sit in a circle and learn how to think about ethical matters through reasoned argument and discussion.
Each week, children are given stimulus material, such as a story or pictures, then trained volunteer ethics teachers facilitate conversations between the children and their peers.
Previously, department policy forbade schools from offering alternative lessons to students who chose not to take part in special religious education.
The right of NSW schools to run ethics classes as an alternative to special religious education was enshrined in law by the Labor government in 2010.
The Education Act, 1990 was amended and Section 33a was created to give parents the right to choose ethics classes for their child if they have opted out of 'special religious education'.
When parents take up the option for their children not to attend scripture classes, they can choose either supervised activities or ethics.
According to the Education Department, parents and caregivers can choose to exempt their children from attending special religious education at the time of enrolment through the enrolment form or by writing to the principal at any time during the school year seeking exemption.