By Kathryn Richardson
GOVERNMENT officials in Gibraltar have said they are considering offering an alternative subject to Religious Education after a six month campaign for reform.
The secretary of the Secular Humanist Society of Gibraltar, David Gibbins, has been calling for a change in policy to the rock’s compulsory teaching of religious education.
The policy currently dictates that although some students can opt out of the subject on grounds of conscience or religious beliefs, they are then unable to take another subject in its place, therefore essentially missing out on an extra GCSE.
Religious Education is currently taught as a core subject as part as the National Curriculum.
As a parent, Mr Gibbins opposed the regulation, saying it was unfair that children would lose a GCSE.
He said: “This would be a giant leap forward for education in Gibraltar and places us at the forefront of balanced teaching, with a fresh and enlightened approach to study that will benefit all students who wish to put religious doctrine in its rightful place – alongside mythology and legend.”
However, the government has said Religious Education will remain a core subject and has only accepted the option of an alternative in principle.
A spokesman said: “Religious Education has been, is at present and will continue to be one of the core subjects taught in our schools and there are no plans at all to change this.”
Mr Gibbins said he hopes a solution can be found and he appreciates the efforts made by the Department of Education.
The recent launch of the SHSG has come as a bit of a shock to the establishment, which for too long has a cosy relationship with the RC church.
Anyone interested in learning more about the Society can visit its website at http://www.shsgib.org
Ridiculous that in the 21st century children are still required to be taught religion in a state-funded school system! And don’t give me all the the morals and good behaviour stuff… have you read a newspaper lately?
The position of the S.H.S.G. regarding Religious Education is simply that all pupils should have the same opportunities regardless of their beliefs or lack thereof.
Currently GCSE R.E. is a compulsory subject in both Comprehensive Schools. Parents are allowed to request that their children opt out but neither the Schools nor the Dept of Education advertise the fact that parents may do this. Those pupils that do opt out are not offered an alternative subject, they are simply left to their own devices during R.E. lessons. We feel it is unfair that these children end up taking one GCSE less than their peers.
We have no desire to eradicate the teaching about religion in schools, but do have concerns over the scope of what is taught. It seems to be that there is little comparative religion studies and R.E. lessons are heavily weighted in favour of Christianity.
All we ask is that those children who do opt out of R.E. not simply be left twiddling their thumbs, that an alternative GCSE Course be offered. Minister Licudi stated that any such alternative would have to include topics such as morality & ethics, which we agree with. I am sure a course such as Citizenship or General Studies would accomplish this and am equally sure it would not be impossible to accommodate this in the timetable.
If students take GCSE Religious Studies they get not only an extra subject but also one that is the study of relious beliefs, behaviours and institutions from a secular viewpoint, i.e., from outside any particular religious viewpoint. Thus they need to examine several of the major religions of the world but at the same time would be rewarded with insights into history, art, anthropology, psychology, philosophy and essential elements of the cultural heritage of civilisation. Then they would be able to make an informed decision to “put religious doctrine in its rightful place,” as Mr Gibbins demands.
You would be correct if students were receiving a Comparative Education on Religion. This is not the case in Gib.
Religion is a fascinating subject but if it is not going to be taught with distance and objectivity then I believe it needs to be moved within the curriculum to either Philosophy, Literature or (ancient) History
James Athol Steel, if only your Utopian description of an ideal R.E. curriculum were in fact what we have in Gibraltar – the reality of the situation is somewhat different. We have a predominantly christian based curriculum, that conforms to the norms, from the nativity right up to teaching about abortion and contraception.
You mention it is taught from a ‘Secular viewpoint’ which is also far from the truth as RE teachers are, in almost every case, theists and it is almost impossible for entrenched belief not to seep into opinion, so we have kids being taught that abortion is wrong and that morality is from god, both of which are very much ‘opinion’ as opposed to objective fact.
Much as I respect the right of students who wish to study RE in this way, I do not accept adults wishes to impose it on their often unwilling children, nor do I accept that those who do not wish to study RE should be forced to do so or else lose out on academic certification.
As a parent, I demand that the constitution be upheld, where non-belief is held in equal regard as belief, and the provision for all beliefs or lack thereof is mandatory in our schools, a provision that is not currently being upheld.
All of the ‘insights’ as you call them into ‘history, art, anthropology, psychology, philosophy and essential elements of the cultural heritage of civilisation’ are nothing more than that – insights, and could easily be incorporated into a broader subject, but until the time that religion does get relegated into the annals of history & mythology, we accept that there are certain individuals who would like to continue to study it, but there are a very great many who do not and who deserve to be provided for also without being tainted by any belief system whatsoever.
This is why I have been campaigning and will continue to do so with the support of the SHSG to demand that an ‘Alternative’ GCSE subject be provided in the interests of equity, fairness and, equality under the constitution of Gibraltar.
Quote from David,
“we accept that there are certain individuals who would like to continue to study it, but there are a very great many who do not and who deserve to be provided for also without being tainted by any belief system whatsoever”
You mean you don’t want them to be advised about the belief systems of Atheism, Paganism, Communism, etc? If you do we need a balanced approach to include everything, including religion, a subject which concerns the vast majority of people on this planet, Gibraltar no exception.
Almost the entire history of civilisation is tied up with it and the kids need to know that.
But I agree, if parents don’t wish for their children to widen their education to understand this, then an alternative should be provided. How about episodes of Coronation Street?
If students were allowed to opt out of religious education and do another gcse instead it would at least be an improvement on the current situation but in my opinion religious education shouldn’t be a core subject in the first place. Why should students have to opt out? RE should be an opt in subject just like geography, history or home economics. Maths and english are core subjects for a very good reason. Their utility. We use them all the time. Their usefulness dwarfs that of religious education. That is why RE should be a an optional subject and not a core subject.
Good point Mathew, unlike the rant from ‘antonioz’. If religion were taught in the manner which James Athol Steel appears to think is the case (which it most certainly is not), that would indeed be a secular way of doing so, even though the subject should not be a core one.
Hi Antonio2. My children do not, and have never taken RE and they will not do so, however, they are fully conversant with history and the role that ‘Human Belief Systems’ have played in the world, from evolutionary godlessness, through paganism to modern-day belief.
To suggest that this knowledge can only be acquired through the teaching of catholic-based RE, by teachers who believe in that same christian god is quite far fetched, the history curriculum could easily house the subject. Is a knowledge of Geography only gained by visiting every country and every city on Earth?
Let us not forget that the alternative subject would include modules on law, social responsibility and religion – not just ‘christianity’. If there were such a subject as ‘Human Belief Systems’ which removed the stigma of the word ‘Religious’ & roundly taught the history, mythology and role of religion through the ages, taught from a position of non-belief, then I would happily subscribe to it, but unfortunately, the RE you describe is very far from being what is taught.
Teenagers are old enough to decide themselves if they want to take a GCSE in RE. The government’s position on the issue belongs to another century. Good luck to the SHSG in its crusade to promote secularism and humanity in Gibraltar.
Am amazed that R.E. is compulsory. It certainly wasn’t when I studied for GCE’s (as they were then) in London. From the age of 14 we had a choice of subjects: and most of us, I believe, dropped R.E. for one of the others.
As an ordained atheist minister, I would have nothing against the teaching of religion in schools, PROVIDED that meant teaching about a broad diversity of the world’s religions: NOT indoctrination in one.
Indoctrination is divisive and sectarian: NOT conducive to promoting integration and cohesion. Children need to learn HOW to think, to cope with the considerable challenges of the modern world. Blind faith in ancient dogma which denies scientific discoveries and prohibits the use of technological and medical advances is a sure recipe for personal misery and global disaster.