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Sunday, February 15, 2004

Religious studies

Mark Ramsden comments on the fact that atheism is to be added to the Religious Education curriculum. The Guardian reports that this is in response to the continuing decline in church attendance. Children are also to be taught about humanism. I think that the inclusion of humanism is reasonable, after all it is a coherent set of beliefs with a philosophical basis. However, as an agnostic is 'someone who does not know, or believes that it is impossible to know, whether a god exists' and an atheist is 'someone who believes that God or gods do not exist' then I find it difficult to imagine how such a state of mind can be taught.

What the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority are effectively asking teachers to do is to teach kids how to be sceptical. If scepticism and the ability to question established tenets is not already part of the way children are taught then we should ask why. Effective questioning is an essential part of anybody's education, as is the need to challenge information and statements of belief at every opportunity. It does not make for easy teaching but it does create intelligent kids who are capable of making a mark in the outside World. I would have hoped that Religious Education of all subjects already incorporated this kind of scepticism.

The proposals by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority only apply to England of course, so we will wait to see how this initiative manifests itself in the classroom there. No doubt the Welsh Education Minister will be asked for her views on the way forward for Wales when we return after the half-term break.

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