Today the secretary of education has offered a radical proposal: instead of teaching children how to use computer programs, we should be teaching them how to create programs. We should be helping them understand — and thus continually reinvent — how computers work.
There have been some splendid quotes flitting around the BBC about the pointlessness of wasting teaching time on Word and Powerpoint when today’s children can master such programmes in a week. And there have been heartfelt comments about the ways in which students and teachers alike are ‘bored to death’ with the ICT curriculum.
I wish this were so. I fear too often the teachers are scared to death of the curriculum, even as the students are bored. And that makes me wonder about the Religious Education curriculum, too.
The RE curriculum is a slippery thing. The Scottish Curriculum for Excellence sounds promising in its stated goals for RE, though I wonder whether most adult Christians could demonstrate sufficient understanding to thrive at Key Stage 4. In England, it seems more confusing. If I have understood this right, RE is non-statutory, and thus the Deparment of Education guidelines are deliciously vague (proving insightful understanding and mirroring of the church?). Each school must teach RE in a way that reflects the religious realities of Britain. Each school must have an approved curriculum. Beyond that there is much wriggle room, to allow for different types of schools and different religious traditions. And, if that is not enough, then parents can always ‘opt out’ of religious education altogether, which raises all sorts of questions about just how essential RE is.
But despite all this, I have a hunch that the teaching of RE is not so very different from the teaching of ICT. I remember clearly the RE exam questions which could offer a similar number of points (and time) for questions as diverse as ‘what are the five pillars of Islam’ and ‘explain what problems are caused for religious believers by the problem of suffering.’ Over and over again, religion was presented as that which could be reduce to a three point answer: the RE equivalent of rewarding ICT points for multi-coloured fonts and zooming images.
The proposals for the ICT curriculum suggest that we should be teaching children how to think about computers: how do they work? how do I need to think to understand them? and then, with those basics in place, what creativity can I offer to help shape ICT for the future?
What if we asked the same questions for the RE curriculum? How does religion work? (so, we might begin with: what shapes religious consciousness? what happens spiritually, cognitively, socially, morally, experientially?) How do I need to think to understand religious belief? (openness to possibility, desire for meaning, capacity for wonder, bracketing of scepticism to explore trust, experiencing real change of heart…). And then, the really interesting one: what creativity can I offer to help shape Christianity… Islam… Judaism… Hinduism… for the future?
Behind all this, I’ve been wondering what would happen if we tried to educate children in wonder rather than religion. But that is for another post.
Today, I simply want to say ‘hurrah for the secretary of education. RE next, please.’