Tuesday, May 10, 2005

RE- A Study By Brother Ghulam Rasool

SECTION ONE: A brief outline of your own experiences of Religious Education (RE) as a pupil and a short account of what view of RE you have as you begin the course.

I recall studying RE at school the early age of five, due to my primary school education commencing in a Roman Catholic environment in West Bromwich in a school named Holy Trinity Primary School. Every morning before registration and at ‘home time’ the class recited the Lord’s Prayer and the said the Grace. In the assembly the Head teacher would read out a biblical stories and parables in simplified terms and then give an example from everyday life of a famous person or somebody within the school. In RE we learnt about predominantly famous New Testament stories centred around Jesus and his famous disciples and studied some parents of the Old Testament concerning Adam, Noah, Abraham, Joseph and Moses.

Even though non-Christians made almost 50% of the pupils enrolled but we never received any teaching about any of the other religions particularly Hinduism, Sikhism and Islam which would have been appropriate to include and represent the religious diversity of the school community. All pupils were generally expected to partake in all RE related learning, activities, functions and celebrations throughout the year without exception. We attended a local Church to which the school was affiliated to at least once a week and if we were preparing for a choir singing or any other seasonal congregational activities, pupils would then attend the Church several times a week for rehearsals. The main seasonal activities we partook in were Christmas, Lent, Easter, Harvest and Thanksgiving.

During my secondary education from 11-14 yrs I studied in State schools in Birmingham and Bradford in parallel with my Islamic Education at the Mosques. In these schools the RE was broad based covering the dominant world religions Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and Sikhism. The teachers generally had thematic approach to the subject but their explanation and expression was very Christo-centric, heavily borrowing Christian biblical vocabulary and contrasting other religious ideas with those in the Bible. Therefore the teaching was suppose to be broad based but was very superficial and not ‘real’. The school environments did not reflect or impose Christian values forthrightly as did my primary RC school possibly due its secular nature and the majority pupils being from non-Christian backgrounds. .

In my fifth high school year I moved to central Birmingham due to my Islamic education and enrolled at a RC school called The Rosary I studied until 16. I recall the school being evenly divided between Muslim and Christian pupils. Here, again the RE lessons were greatly Christo-centric. We studied the entire Luke’s and John’s Gospel in the two years without studying any focused study of any other world religion. However in this school students of other faiths could opt out of religious activities and celebrations upon request. Also the staff and the environment did not impose Christian values but in comparison to the state schools there was a higher degree of moral consciousness in the pupils.

Hence my understanding of RE due to my schooling was that RE was taken more seriously at faith schools but they were very biased and unrepresentative of the diversity of all the pupils enrolled. State schools tried to be representative and broad based in their approach but lacked real depth as the majority of the teachers were Christo-centric in their interpretation and explanation. Also state schools were coming across as less serious about religion or as indoctrinating as faith schools. However as a non-Christian I enjoyed both experiences as I had the opportunity to study my faith in parallel to my schooling instilling in me an almost unique inquisitiveness, appreciation, awareness and understanding of RE and Christianity and some understanding of other world religions.

SECTION TWO: an outline of the main issues and controversies that exist within the subject as discerned from your reading of key text and articles

The main issues that pertain to RE in Britain today are generally centred around statutory legislation, significance and role of RE in the modern world, and implementing an effective pedagogy to deliver RE appropriately within school education environment.

The British State and RE

Since the first Education Act in 1870, the state recognised RE as important therefore began to provide Christian RE in Board Schools parallel to the Church. But the key question of teaching Roman Catholic (RC) or Church of England (CE) dogma was resolved by teaching a ‘broadly Christian’ approach as enshrined in the Cowper Temple Clause ‘no religious catechism or formulary distinctive of any particular denomination shall be taught’ but to be generally Christian’. Here was a compromised solution to overcome religious sectarian friction by focusing on general Christian principles accepted by most.

The post war 1944 Butler Education Act directed the locally determined basis for RE by making compulsory the establishing of Agreed Syllabuses (AS), with a CE biased policy development framework. RE became established in law ensuring continuance with a non-denominational secularised Christian syllabus in government schools. The 1944 Act did not mention the word Christian but the Act assumed the inculcated belief that RE was about teaching Christianity either in denominational terms in Voluntary Aided Schools, or in broadly Christian terms.

In 1988 the Education Act was amended to include and reflect the multi faith nature of society within the shade of the Christian RE as demanded by Christian Right. Therefore the Act states:

‘All mew syllabuses must reflect the fact that the religious traditions in Great Britain are in the main Christian whilst taking account of the teaching and practices f the other principal religions represented in Great Britain
(Education Reform Act 1988, Chapter 40 section 8, HMSO)

Even as over a century has passed and as new diverse communities are emerging, the pluralistic and increasingly secular society, state Christian centred RE is still overshadowing effective application of RE principles and strategy. For many researchers and academics the emphasis on Christianity in the act is not seen as progressive but regressive. (Grimmitt, 2000 p.12)

However prior to the 1988 Act, specifically since the 1944 act RE was taught as compulsory nationally. In this same year the National Curriculum (NC) was introduced but RE was not essential as previous. Therefore RE has to now struggle for recognition in the basic curriculum. Also the Act stipulates that all post 1988 AS’s must reflect other religious traditions in Britain further clouding how to give due regard to the position and influence of the main British Christian tradition alongside representing other principal religious traditions within Britain effectively. However with the governments insistence on all trainee teachers to have a ‘detailed knowledge of the model syllabuses’ (Ibid p.14-15) has raised the significance of RE almost on par to the core content imposed on NC subjects. However one feels that RE should be recognised as a NC subject and its educational and humanising aspects valued within todays multi-faith and multi cultural society. LEA’s authorities reaction to compulsory AS’s was to compile AS’s with the various religions in isolation to the other within a usually systemised approach based on six world faith working groups, working independently of other co-groups. The involvement of Faith communities one feels is essential to ensure some ‘real’ understanding of other religions as taught from within the faith. But it is necessary to readdress the balance of allowing all religions to participate equally in formulating AS’s without a Christian bias even though some may argue for proportional representation.

Role of RE

Grimmitt airs concerns about legislation stating that how ‘these clauses have been subjected to even narrower interpretation within government circulars, guidelines and education Acts’ (Ibid p.11&13-14) by the self-interests pursed by religionist and politicians. He advocates the liberation of RE from politicians and religionists. He adds that RE has become a

'a victim of ideological manipulation, religious domestication and further marginalisation from other curriculum subjects rendering it powerless as a humanising influence upon the whole curriculum. (Ibid, p.11)

Grimmit warns that from August 2002 that the government is to introduce into all secondary schools compulsory Citizenship Education and Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) further undermining RE. He points out the gradual supplanting of American educational ethos into Britain. He accuses the current Labour and previous Tory government of creating a market led business type organisational climate where finances, political agenda, output, competition and value for money hence, the ‘language of business management’ has become the overbidding factor in schools today. From my own limited experience I would acknowledge Grimmits concerns as acceptable as I’ve have found similar concerns aired in schools and mentioned in the RE media discussions. Therefore current legislation places restrictions upon RE and has devalued the status of RE due by degrading it to a non-compulsory subject falling outside NC subject.

RE Pedagogies

Over the years many RE pedagogies have been developed. The most suitable pedagogies to be applied in current education environment have to be those which are non-confessional non-denominational in today’s multi-faith, mutli-cultural and increasingly secular society. Even in Voluntary Aided schools one feels that appreciation and understanding of other world religions is necessary for positive social integration and interaction, learning tolerance or acceptance of the confessional and denominational differences. I personally would consider and apply three pedagogical approaches to RE styles of teaching within a multi faith and pluralist society:

a) The Phenomenological, Undogmatic, Explicit Model;
b) Human Development, Instrumental, Learning About, Learning from Models;
c) the Ethnographic Interpretive Multi-faith Model.

The Phenomenological approach which Grimmit has categorised as Phenomenological, Undogmaic, Explicit Model (Ibid, p.27) is the earliest and popular classroom technique being multi faith and having a world religion approach. The aim is to develop attitudes of tolerance and openness through the study of external phenomenon of religion. Smart was a key campaigner of this approach since the early seventies even developing a six dimensional approach to religious phenomenon: doctrinal, mythological, ethical, ritual, experiential and social. (Smart 1989, p.12) Grimmitt advocated the dimensional alongside the existential approaches to RE. (Grimmit 1973, p.50) Phenomenological approach is not educating into but educating about religions. This approach has positive and creative approach to pluralism that works with the social diversity today. Sometimes the phrase ‘celebration of diversity’ is used to describe this approach.
In phenomenology we have the terms ‘Implicit’ RE and ‘Explicit’ RE coined. The former referring to ‘pupils search for meaning’ and the latter concerned with ‘the detailed phenomenon of religion’. (Grimmit 2000, p. 28)

A criticism of the Phenomenological approach is that it encourages superficial learning and misrepresenting religion as something which can be neatly packaged up in organised sections. The other criticism is that this approach conveys relativism and that it fails to prepare pupils for the real pluralist world. (Watson 1997, pp.44-55)

The Human Development, Instrumental, Learning About, Learning from Models is result of collaborative work between Grimmit and Read at Westhill Birmingham. This model emphasises what it means for humans to make a faith response to those ‘fundamental, inescapable questions about the human condition which arise from reflection from the shared human experience’ (Grimmitt 2000, p.34) Nurturing the skills of studying the content and then responding in a reflective manner. Hence, the implicit concept of learning about and learning from religion. This model allows pupils to interpret insights from their RE study into their personal experience and understanding. This takes a pupils experience beyond the educational phenomenological approach allowing impact on ones life and circumstances.

The Warwick Ethnographic, ‘Interpretive’, Multifaith Model focuses into the transmission of religious culture from parents and faith communities to children. This is a pedagogy that enables ‘pupils to relate to a way of life different from their own’. This model encourages pupils to focus upon relating their personal knowledge and understanding to RE. This is termed by the project as ‘oscillating between the pupils world and the world of the insider’ (Ibid, p.38)

The style of teaching that I would be inclined to implement would be the utilisation of thematic, constructivist and social constructivist methodological technique.

SECTION THREE: reflections on your experience of teaching RE first during the team teaching exercise and then during your five week School Placement.

Before I came to this PGCE I felt that to posses sound religious knowledge and knowledge of religions was the most important criteria to be a teacher. On my team teaching I realised that there was more to teaching then the feeding info to pupils. I learned that every aspect of classroom teaching must be pre-planned and organised prior to delivery. Teaching cannot entirely be teacher-centric but the pupils need to learn from within interactive teaching methodologies and the utilisation of their personal experience, thoughts, understanding and interpretation, hence pupil-centric. Also the onus is on the teacher to stimulate, engage and occupy the children’s mind and attention not only to be left to the didactic information. Also emphasis is not on information but on method and technique of delivery. In my second placement I was advised by mentor to not to focus on knowledge based teaching but to focus on skill based teaching and to use more activity centred teaching. My general style of teaching was phenomenological, didactic and teacher centric. On my team teaching I learned to incorporate a diverse range of teaching methods coupled with interaction and activity based teaching. On my placement I attempted to use thematic and interpretive approaches to teaching as well as experiential.

Coming from a non-Christian background I appreciate the need to teach not from a totally Christian perspective but to engage with pupils of different faith backgrounds to ensure interest and relativity. Therefore the style which I have adopted and begin to apply in the classroom is behaviourist and constructivist utilising thematic, phenomenological interpretive and experiential pedagogical model approaches. The main focus being on learning about and learning from religion. I cannot say that I have developed ‘a’ style but have amalgamated or mishmashed a suitable style for a particular lesson occasion.

The limitation of the phenomenological approach is that it is usually a superficial external observation of religion and that the religious phenomenon is conveniently placed into pigeon holes under pre-conceived titles. Since the approach is not looking at the religion from within the faith but externally observed, a distorted picture can be portrayed and pupils do not have a ‘real’ image of the religion making them ill equipped for true multifaith and multicultural social integration. The constructivist model takes into account a students thought and experience but both of these can vary due to the ability of the pupil and their understanding of their experiences, which in turn will usually be limited. Thematic approach is better but not ideal as the themes selected may have a particular significance to the observer, but to the religion a theme may be unfair as it may have less significance then some other theme, vice versa.

I received RE policy document of my School Placement 1 after several requests I received a sheet which outlined the commitment to detailing an RE policy document but I did not see one therefore cannot comment in this area.

I have implemented some of the skills I’ve acquired into my teaching with very positive results. I have developed a new planning and delivery strategy has enhanced my effectiveness not only in imparting but in producing results. I feel confident with the teaching role and have no real concerns about my knowledge of religions as I am generally well aware and if need be resourceful enough to find the appropriate information. I have good presence in the room and have good classroom control techniques. I feel the need to develop a greater pupil-centric approach so to be able to nurture and stimulate pupil focus and discussion and to develop reflection through meaningful activities harnessing pupil’s own skills. I recognise I need to be more aware of the national and regional legislative guidelines and requirements and RE pedagogical approaches.

I believed that I required professional training prior to the PGCE. The course has been an eye opener with diverse approach incorporating understanding legislative guidelines, educational and RE theories and placement training within a functional school. Generally I am pleased with my own development and coming to terms with my strengths, weaknesses and the appreciation for differences between private, public confessional and non-confessional education.

SECTION FOUR: the views of pupils on RE and its value.

A questionnaire was devised to ask pupils in all school years to gather pupils on RE to assess their attitudes. Majority of the pupils questioned predominantly were under 14yrs of age.

A) Do you enjoy RE?
YES = 87.5%
NO = 12.5%
B) What do you like about RE?
Learning about different religions= 87.5%
Thinking about God= 12.5%
Discussing different religious topics= 0%
Discussing beliefs with classmates= 0%
C) What don’t you like about RE?
Learning about something you do not believe in=37.5%
Learning about religions= 62.5%
D) Does RE help you with your own beliefs?
E) Do your own beliefs help you with RE?
YES= 100%
NO= 0%
F) What do you think is the main thing that can be learnt from RE?
Understanding other religions= 87.5%
Understanding God better= 0%
Respect and tolerance for beliefs different to yours=12.5%
G) Do you feel you understand your classmates more better after learning about their religion?
NO = 0%
H) What do you think about more, after your RE lesson?
Your life=12.5%
Life after death=12.5%
What your religion says about the topic you have been studying=25%
I) Will you be choosing RE as a GCSE option?
YES= 62.5%
NO = 0%

This questionnaire was simplified to suit all school years hence the results present a a cross school view. I feel some of the pupils in the lower years chose the first option on multi option questions without paying the required serious engagement to complete this questionnaire. Due to the same questionnaire being presented to all pupils therefore the ages of the pupils are not determinable.

It is surprising to learn that over 87.5% enjoy RE, which is usually seen as a monotonous subject. However a further questionaire during the summer placement would provide further useful insights into some of the questions answered in the questionaire.

SECTION FIVE: issues about RE that have emerged for you by the end of Autumn

I need to analyse and investigate: RE research on the 1988 Education Act and its significance and many interpretations; become more familiar with the diverse range of Model Syllabuses and AS’s; to be well acquainted with the National Curriculum’s regional and national legislative guidelines. To further practice and implement RE pedagogies and to study upto-date RE research and academic publications. Also, I need to investigate more interactive and experiential based active classroom teaching techniques.

I have identified that I need to incorporate a diverse range of pupil centred teaching techniques to ensure learning, nurturing skills and shape pupil views constructively. To further develop skills in differentiative teaching for SEN and mixed ability pupils. To incorporate a diverse range of audio, visual, sensual and experiential teaching activities and techniques. To learn from placements and study the latest classroom techniques in control, delivery and maximum effectiveness.

I feel I need to acquire and develop a ‘within the faith perspective’ and to try and appreciate the values, customs, rituals, practices, traditions and sensitivities as seen by the believers of the faith under study. I need to be able to identify the major issues, themes and ceremonies within the Christian, Judaic, Hindu and Sikh religions. In particular I have little understanding of the Buddhist tradition but can relate to its principles via the spiritual Sufi tradition of Islam and other religions


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