Schools have a legal obligation and ethical duty to deliver all aspects of the curriculum, not just select subjects. Over a quarter of state secondary schools in England are not offering Religious Education (RE) despite clear government legislation. Lack of RE classes not only hinder the social abilities of students to interact with each other in today’s multicultural society but leaves them unprepared for modern life. Ignorance breeds hatred, and this could lead to an increased rate of religiously motivated crimes due to lack of understanding and intolerance.
Today, British society is defined by the presence of religion, this is reflected by the increase in Islamophobia and overwhelming statistics of the rise of strong anti-Semitic attitudes. By not educating students in the core beliefs of various world religions, schools are producing a generation unprepared for modern life. It is important for students to understand religiously motivated issues in the wider world as well as their own immediate communities. Sociologically, modern Britain is a product of religion, shaped and moulded by many different faiths. Failing to teach RE will only result in an increased divide between groups of contrasting religious backgrounds.
Many view RE classes as an outdated vestige of the past, with no place in the minds of the emerging generations. An overemphasis on STEM subjects remains the focus of many curricula in order to instil students with ‘employable’ skills. Whilst this approach has certainly brought the UK in line with other countries placing more emphasis on technical education, students are missing out on the chance to question their personal beliefs as well as opportunities later in life.
This ad hoc approach where institutions cherry-pick the most ‘useful’ skills is not only damaging to students’ ability to function in a society increasingly affected by religious activity, but also compromises opportunities in higher education. Without these classes, students are robbed the chance to pursue theological and philosophical programmes at university and are therefore denied the freedom of choice in academic disciplines.
With a declining rate of religious participation in the UK, many argue that educating children in theology at the expense of the tax payer is a waste of time and funds. However, this mindset fails to take into account that religion remains a huge aspect of the global socio-political climate.
To dismiss RE is to deafen the ears and blind the eyes of this country’s next generation, preventing them from critically assessing the motivations of both themselves and those around them. RE classes do not teach students to be religious. Instead, they teach them to understand religion. A lack of understanding inevitably leads to conflict, and in turn hatred of those one has not been given the skills to understand.
Regardless of religious background, it is important for students to undertake an active role in discovering their own ethical and moral beliefs on a personal level. By developing a reactionary opinion, students take an active role in understanding philosophical questions and from there, developing an understanding of the world. The skills that are provided by RE classes are those that nobody in modern Britain should be without. RE lessons deliver a varied and analytical approach to different religions and the cultural ethics which lie behind them.
To lose such skills in our young generation will only pour fuel on the fire of today’s volatile society.
Image: Josh Green