Education about beliefs ‘vital’ for a plural society

EDINBURGH AND LONDON - 8 March 2011: A senior educationist has said that good quality teaching about the religions and beliefs is vital for the development of shared understandings and positive citizenship practices in a plural society.

Writing for the beliefs and values thinktank Ekklesia, Robert Jackson, who is Professor of Education at the University of Warwick and Director of Warwick Religions and Education Research Unit, says that “peaceful coexistence depends on knowledge about each other’s religions and worldviews and sharing common interests as well as doing things together.”

He was responding to the debate about ‘multiculturalism’ sparked last month by the Prime Minister.

David Cameron needs to give more attention to the views of young people, to the positive contribution religions and cultures can make to the community, and to the need for “an intellectually challenging forum in the school” on belief issues “taught by well-trained teachers”, says Professor Jackson.

Referring to the findings of the European Commission Project on Religion, Education, Dialogue and Conflict (REDCo) among 14-16 year olds across seven countries, Professor Jackson points out that “students who learn about religious diversity in school are more willing to have conversations about religions/beliefs with students of other backgrounds than those who do not.”

The research shows that pupils “do not want to be told what to believe… [but] they want teachers to combine expertise in the study of religions and social and cultural issues with expertise as facilitators of discussion and exchange,” he explains.

Both the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have called for teaching about religions and beliefs as a fundamental part of promoting inter-cultural understanding.

But Professor Jackson says that the government is not demonstrating serious intent in this area. Teacher training numbers for religious education have been reduced by 50 per cent for 2012, training courses are closing, and RE is not being considered as an exam subject in relation to the proposed English baccalaureate – downgrading the intellectual rigour required.

Simon Barrow, co-director of Ekklesia, commented: “Literacy in the religious and non-religious worldviews shaping our world, and influencing the relations between people and culture, is crucial to promoting peaceful co-existence in a mixed society – not least among the young. Bigotry and violent extremism breed on isolation and ignorance.”

He added: “Tub-thumping about ‘British values’ is not the way forward. We need practical steps to ensure that a dialogical, critical approach to religion and belief becomes a properly resourced and scrutinised part of the national curriculum – as educationists from a variety of backgrounds have been arguing for some time.”

ENDS

Notes to Editors:

1. Founded in 2001, Ekklesia examines politics, values and beliefs in a changing world, from a Christian perspective. It has been listed by The Independent newspaper among 20 influential UK think-tanks. According to Alexa/Amazon, it has one of the most-visited religion and politics / current affairs websites in Britain. More: http://ekklesia.co.uk/content/about/about.shtml

2. Professor Robert Jackson's article, Cameron, 'multiculturalism' and education about religions and beliefs can be found at http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/14271

3. Robert Jackson is Professor of Education at the University of Warwick and Director of Warwick Religions and Education Research Unit. He is also Professor of Religious Diversity and Education at the Council of Europe-related European Wergeland Centre, based in Oslo, concerned with human rights, citizenship and intercultural education across Europe. He led the Warwick team involved in the REDCo Project.