Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Resurrection of religion in Scots schools?

Andrew Denholm writes in the Herald today

The number of pupils sitting Religious, Moral and Philosophical Studies at Higher has seen a dramatic increase in the past year with the number of candidates taking the exam increasing by one-third, from 1323 in 2006 to 1751 this year.

This is quite a contrast to what Richard Dawkins notes in the "Enemies of Reason" that Physics and Chemistry A-Levels had dropped between 30-50% (numbers recalled off the top of my head).

Is this a worry? Well

The sharp rise follows a revamp of the course in 2005 by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), which made it more relevant to current affairs and emphasised the contribution of philosophy to the course, which involves the study of world religions and beliefs.

I am always dubious about arguments to make education more relevant to current affairs. Of course it depends what one means by current affairs as far as teens are concerned. We have not reached using Big Brother in class rooms yet but don't be surprised. It does look interesting that they are teaching philosophy, a lack in the UK educational systems compared, say, to France.

Teachers and academics believe the growing numbers reflect a desire by pupils to think critically about their own beliefs and those of others in what can be a confusing world to grow up. Elements of the course which deal with euthanasia, creationism and genetics have proved particularly popular.

The question is how they are taught. I am not against religious education in school (although think it should be part of a history curriculum) but am against religious instruction. There simply is no justification for that in state schools.

The rise may also reflect the growing interest in the part religion has played in recent world conflicts and a parallel rise in atheism, led by philosopher Anthony Grayling and arch-Darwinist Richard Dawkins.

I wonder if Richard Dawkins would be amused by the rising uptake of courses in religion due to his books!

The new-found popularity of the course was welcomed by academics, teachers and church representatives. Stephen McKinney, a religious education lecturer at Glasgow University, said the increased popularity of the Higher course proved the idea that religion was dead was wildly inaccurate.

Aaagh! Just when I was beginning to think this course has some real benefits. On the other hand an RE lecturer needs students so he would say that wouldn't he. He says

"It is clear that there is a greatly increasing interest in philosophical debate and an increasing interest in religion and the current discourse about the rise of the secular state may not be as cut and dried as people think," he said.

"Although churches may not be as well attended as they used to be, it seems that those who are not affiliated with a particular religion still have a great interest."

Yes but what type of interest? Better the evil you know than you don't? Know thy enemy? You can spin this anyway you want but, remember, the course is Religious, Moral and Philosophical Studies not just Religion. One has to wander how religion can co-exist in a course with morality and philosophy :-) Indeed surely one could have a Moral and Philosophical Studies Higher where religion is just one of the topics under analysis along with "euthanasia, creationism and genetics". For all I know maybe that is how it is treated. I doubt it. Maybe someone familiar with the curriculum could enlighten us.

Michael McGrath, director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, said"The rise highlights a greater interest in religious beliefs and philosophical enquiry," he said. "The notion that somehow God is dead is not born out by the high levels of interest in religion both amongst young people and in society in general."

I wonder if they are just spinning this to their own advantage. Or is this my own wishful thinking?

Dr Gill Stewart, depute director of qualifications for the SQA,...
"The qualification has been revised to make it more relevant and to take account of the fact that Scotland is more multi-cultural. We are delighted to see the growing uptake because we believe the course helps young people develop the ability to think independently."

If they think independently I don't think God's resurrection will last long. I cant make head or tail of all this spin. I would love someone to indicate what this curriculum is really about.