Free Religious Education In UK Primary Schools: A Critical Approach Essay Example
The school curriculum in England makes it mandatory for the state schools to teach religious education to pupils at every critical stage. At the surface level, the attempt may seem to divide people on religious lines, this is not true, however.
Education about religion fosters an understanding of various beliefs and norms that form the part of contemporary society. As such, it contributes to personal development and cranks up community cohesion by promoting mutual respect in a diverse society.
The aim of an education system is to impart a balanced learning that promotes mental, social, cultural, physical, and moral development of children. RE encourages students to explore their beliefs in the light of what they learn. Students may examine the validity/ invalidity of religious practices after having a holistic understanding of various approaches. Overall, it builds resilience to extremities and fosters moderation about different religious norms.
Religion, being an important aspect of a culture, helps children to build a sense of belonging and identity. At the same time, it educates them to respect others' beliefs thereby developing a balanced personality. Primary school children, aged between 5 to 11, have developing minds and an excellent grasping power. So, what is easier to infuse at this stage may be difficult at the later ages. Thus, adopting a holistic and balanced approach to education right from the primary stage is the best way to nurture children in responsible and responsive adults.
Research studies have emphasized on three main strands of RE in primary schools. First strand is that schools must educate the children not only about Christianity but also about other major religions including Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, and Buddhism. The second strand is that RE makes a significant contribution to spiritual development of pupils. Spirituality is a complex area, and RE helps children to unfold many questions in their innocent minds. It also enables them to make a relationship with the unforeseen power and to respond to challenging situations in a composed manner. Thirdly, RE develops positive attitudes and skills in children. Some of these skills include synthesis, application, interpretation, expression, empathy, investigation, and evaluation. These are fundamental to the overall development of learners.
RE, if taught in a proper manner, fosters social cohesion, spiritual development, mutual respect, cultural inclusiveness, and ethical values. It is equally important for a child's overall growth and the development of a society as a whole. Research has recommended using integration approach, i.e., linking other subjects with RE in primary schools. The integration approach will fulfil the main purpose of introducing RE in the school curriculum. Teaching RE as a subject will help students developing neutral approach towards religion and mutual respect for diverse cultures.
At the primary level, making distinctions between subjects is not relevant. Rather it is important to make the learning a coherent process by connecting different elements across subjects. It is a creative way that reinforces learning by emphasizing interconnectedness of knowledge. To make RE a success, teachers must think about various factors including:
Filters used by teachers to understand different cultures
Life-world of pupils
Succinctly, RE requires creativity in designing the curriculum as well as imparting the education. There are different approaches to teaching RE; major ones include phenomenology, interpretive, and theology. Though it is difficult to select the best model, teachers must work out their own position in the light of religion, cultures , and beliefs and design the curriculum according to the context of the community and the school. Many scholars have preferred interpretive approach that encourages students to interpret religious meanings by meeting with real people from those traditions. As such, they don't take the information passively, rather become aware of different aspects of religions and challenges in their generalization.
In short, RE needs to be delivered properly. Critics have argued that the entirely thematic approach lacked progression and continuity. Now days, schools have started taking care of planning and strategy in RE and other subjects. The long term planning towards RE must ensure continuity and interconnectedness among subjects. It is the reason there has been great emphasis on integration model and practical approach. It is required to link theories and practice so as to develop a holistic and coherent approach among students. RE curriculum must acknowledge that children are a part of society, and their personal development will lead to societal development in the long run. Also, education and society carry a two-way interaction, and better education will help make a better society.
Considering religious diversity between different religions, it is vital to maintaining religious pluralism. Pluralism seems a pragmatic approach to foster trust and understanding between people of different belief systems. Monotheistic religions( Christianity, Islam) believe in existence of one God while henotheistic religions( Hinduism) recognize many Gods and Goddesses. Many Philosophical systems have even focused on intra-theistic diversity. One possible response to religious diversity is to maintain a pluralistic approach, i.e., to claim that no religion is superior and to make a positive claim that religious perspectives of different beliefs are equally close to the truth.
Religious diversity poses a challenge in real life scenarios for schools. For instance, should Muslim girls be allowed to wear burkas? Should schools designate only Christian holidays as school holidays? These questions are challenging and only increasing awareness about diverse religious perspectives can have some positive social outcomes.
Almost all schools attempt to encourage students to believe that it is wrong to adopt discriminatory ways to other systems. Teachers persuade students to accept other religions of having equal value. However, the process does not end with this. As Robert Wuthnow has stated, it is not enough only to be better informed, rather it is required to "live peacefully with those with whom one disagrees." One must be religious tolerant and develop an empathetic understanding of various religions.
Succinctly, RE is necessary to nurture pupils in responsive adults. It is also crucial to make the society peaceful. Schools, having imparted RE, would fulfil one of their biggest responsibility, i.e., to make the world a better place to live.
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