Religion is something that is often debated, and regardless of whether you consider it a force for good, a negative influence or something outdated and irrelevant; it is a topic many have strong views about.
Despite being an Atheist and critical of organised religion, I am a reasonable enough human being to allow others to believe in whatever they like, as well I should. However, it is the methods in which faith is ‘presented’ to youth that I disagree with.
From the beginnings of organised education, religious organisations and charities, often established by the church, have run schools. This was before the time of a national curriculum and before the time of state funding. Yet, in the large leaps and bounds the education system has progressed through, there still seems to be some unnecessary link to its religious beginnings.
As schools have developed there have been regular efforts from the religious community to gain access to the students, seemingly in the hope of scaring them into the faith through tales of sin and hell. For example, there are specially classified ‘faith schools’ which aim to teach students within the framework of a specific faith. Yet, this doesn’t seem to be enough. State schools have to include religious education in the curriculum. This means that students who may not have a particular faith, or parents who may have chosen a non-faith school to avoid religious indoctrination, are going to be exposed to religious teachings anyway. It is preposterous that students are not given a faith-free choice. You can choose between a religious school and a non-religious school that teaches religion… Hardly a choice!
It seems ridiculous that religious teachings are even considered relevant in the modern curriculum. The ‘Ten Commandments’ of Christianity are ingrained into children before they could even conceptualise religion as a whole. So the supposed morals described by the religion are already being taught in a faith-free way. It is unnatural to scare children to behave in certain ways with the fear of eternal torture in hell. Another consideration is the recent story with regards to extremists trying to gain control of schools in Birmingham. Had they succeeded, they could have attempted to mask their true intent through the veil of being a faith school.
Surely, the curriculum should aim to provide a challenging and varied group of topics/subjects that allows students to develop critical thinking and autonomy so that they are able to make their own decisions. By all means keep Religious Education available extra-curricular or as a GCSE/A-level that students can opt-in or out of, but by forcing all students to take this class is nothing more than allowing the church to impose its views on the minds of students in an effort to convert as many people as possible to their declining belief. It seems maddening enough that parents can force their beliefs on their children and indoctrinate them from an early age, but it seems beyond comprehension that the government would allow it to happen in schools as well.
The whole system seems more obscure when you consider that the number of ‘irreligious people’ in the UK has grown year on year; statistics from the ONS say that between 2001 and 2011, there was an increase in those reporting no religion (from 14.8 per cent to 25.1 per cent) at all. As well as this a survey carried out in 2009 with 13-18 year olds revealed that roughly two thirds of all teenagers no longer hold any religious beliefs.
Naturally there is nothing to stop students who do believe in a particular religion from going to their place of worship and learning more or from reading their religious texts; but I cannot find any reason to agree with the need for religion to be taught in schools, especially standard state schools without the express permission of the students themselves, or at least a fair compromise of faith schools still maintaining their curriculum whilst non-faith state schools do not.