Importance of Religious Education in School Curriculum

Where to place religious education in the academic curriculum, is one of the renewed discussions currently highlighted throughout the US. This debate has been motivated by developments planned to minimize provisions by providing a framework for religious education that can advance good practice in teaching and learning and alleviate some of the issues of training teachers and providing high quality resources when each local area may have a different syllabus for the subject.

It has been recognized that the production of high-quality resources for religious education is challenging when publishers cannot be as confident as they are in other curriculum areas that all pupils in a particular key stage will be studying the same topics. Seeking agreement on what might constitute a national framework for religious education has been a protracted and carefully negotiated process requiring decisions to be made regarding what should be recommended and with what degree of prescription. Determining the curriculum for any subject is bound to be fraught with difficulty, as choices have to be made concerning what to include and so inevitably what to exclude. In religious education the process has always been regarded as particularly sensitive, given the potential for controversy when there is a need to take account of more than one major religious tradition and limited curriculum time available. The emerging consensus as to the desirability of a national framework has been challenged by moves to go beyond the establishing of a set of guidelines to advocating a national syllabus for religious education that would more closely mirror the provision for other subjects in the English National Curriculum.

At the same time as this issue has preoccupied religious educators, other advancements in the syllabus have challenged the addition of religious education as a compulsory subject. The strengthening of personal, social and health studies in the National Curriculum and the introduction of citizenship as an additional compulsory subject has led people to question the worth of religious studies to the education. Religious studies provide a heavy set of arguments that demand serious attention of religious educators, not only in the US but also across other international communities.

Few years ago, there were only four departments of religious studies in British Universities. The recent decision by a university in the UK that was a pioneer in establishing the academic study of religion, as opposed to theology or divinity, to close its department of religious studies and offer staff a merger with a department of theology in a neighboring institution indicates that the claim of the discipline to have a unique contribution to make is still not generally understood and may not be sufficiently convincing to secure its status in the modern university. Nevertheless, religious studies have been regarded as a significant influence on the teaching of religious education in schools. The impact has perhaps been overstated and was in any case largely confined to one aspect of religious studies; the phenomenological approach. Much remains to be done to develop understanding of the relationships between religious studies, theology and religious education.

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