Student Voice: Should Religious Education still be taught in schools?

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ALMOST five years ago the European Social Survey found that in the UK, 52.64 per cent of people said they do not consider themselves as belonging to any particular religion or denomination.

The god-fearing world we once knew is no longer there and as we evolve as a species we are leaving our religious entanglements behind. This is evident in the way we live our everyday lives, how we raise our children and even the sort of television we watch.

In comparison to the US, there is a certain nonchalance surrounding faith in the United Kingdom and it plays a significantly smaller role in our lives than it did 60 years ago.

So is it time we stopped teaching Religious Studies in compulsory education? Should it make way for a subject that is more academically relevant in the 21st century?

Religion is an important part of the world we live in today and is an integral part of understanding the reasoning behind much of the world’s art, conflict, and tradition. Believer or atheist, it cannot be disputed that a broad knowledge of religion is fundamental when it comes to understanding society as a whole.

There are certainly advantages in making our school children aware of the various faiths and the role they play in the world.

Rose Camden, a RS GCSE long-course student believes the subject is still worth having.

“I did really enjoy it,” she says. “I thought it was really worth doing as although we mainly studied Christianity and although Britain is now very multi cultural I think it is valuable to know about the festivals of the country and know what they mean exactly, such as Christmas and Easter.

“We also looked at other perspectives in comparison, although not in as much detail. I think it’s important that everybody has an understanding of different religions, even if it is only a small one, because then if you do come across said religions you aren’t ignorant towards the beliefs and values of the individual.

“For example, if you where cooking for a friend that was Jewish and you knew nothing of Judaism you may accidentally serve them bacon. Also, learning in depth about Christianity means that I gained a better understanding of why the country is how it is today, including laws and traditions.”

The question is though, at what point does teaching Britain’s students about all the aspects of the many different religions seem, quite frankly, a bit ridiculous? There are several reasons for this way of thinking. Number one being arguably the most important.

What sort of example are we setting to our children by introducing them to the socially backward views of many religions? Moral messages like women are inferior to men (shown through the recent decision not to allow female bishops), homosexuality is wrong and abortion isn’t acceptable are not the direction we want to be taking with our education.

It’s important to have a general understanding of these cultures, but why are we giving these dated and often offensive practices several years of forced attention?

The other real issue is that public figures, including Dara O’Briain and Professor Brian Cox, are giving subjects like physics and astronomy a trendy new look with programmes such as Wonders of the Universe, Stargazing and A Night with the Stars.

Next to these glamorous, exciting and factual shows that go along way to explain how our world began, religion seems insignificant, old-fashioned and nonsensical.

I know that when I was a GCSE student, I would much rather have been mixing chemicals and doing experiments.

Having spoken to several A-Level pupils who were forced to sit RS at GCSE, you start to see that many young intellectuals see it as a waste of time.

Milton Keynes student Emmett Saigal isn’t happy that he was made to sit the subject.

“I actually see it as pretty insulting, degrading and totally pointless,” he says. “I think our time would have been far better spent on humanities or scientific studies.”

What seems puzzling is the absence of a big political push. Given the low turnout at the last general election, political studies at GCSE level would be a brilliant way to engage young people in politics – a subject that is influential today, and would bring a modern approach to educating students in a powerful and vital subject that heavily will undoubtedly influence their lives in the future.

Let’s keep informing students about religion through the ages, but the time is right to push forward with newer ways of thinking.

One idea that’s been floated is to teach Religious Studies like you’d teach sex and drug education or even as part of their Citizenship lessons/tutorial periods. In essence, provide several one-hour lessons that cover the basics and give pupils a good understanding.

Compulsory education prides itself on core subjects, Science, Maths, English, History etc.

So it’s time we stopped forcing them to learn about something that in this day an age not only seems old-fashioned, but is also boring.

> Charlie Ray is a journalism degree student at University Centre Milton Keynes. He tweets as @charlieray47