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'Major' Change Is Needed To Educate Youths About Tolerance And Different Beliefs, Report Warns

07/07/2015 12:24 | Updated 07 July 2015
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A major shift in education policy is needed in order to educate young people about tolerance and different faiths, a report has warned.

The paper, which coincides with the 10th anniversary of the London bombings, said pupils need to be taught skills to deal with controversial issues surrounding belief effectively.

Titled "Encountering Faiths and Beliefs: the role of intercultural education in schools and communities", and written by the charity The Three Faiths Forum (3FF) and education think tank LKMco, the report urged policymakers to move beyond "multiculturalism" and towards intercultural education - saying the latter engages with differences between beliefs.

Education should also tackle challenges different communities are facing, such as inter-religious tensions and prejudice, it added.

Lead author Anna Trethewey explained: "Given the sensitive nature of the issues, bad intercultural education can be worse than no intercultural education at all. Our research uncovered examples of poor intercultural education that only reinforced stereotypes or which took an unbalanced and tokenistic approach.

"In one example, people had invited guests to a synagogue, but were then denied access to a church on a reciprocal visit. In another case, a faith leader preached at their audience and allowed little space for dialogue."

The charity argues the case for intercultural education, saying it "brings people together across difference".

"This means helping pupils recognise commonalities but also supporting them to engage in tough conversations about difference."

The report also says pupils should learn what it is like to live with religious beliefs.

"For example, whilst a traditional RE lesson might look at Islamic beliefs around the hijab, the report highlights one session in which a Muslim women explained why she changed her mind about wearing the hijab and what her experiences were like once she began to wear it."

3FF insisted a positive response to rising extremism is possible, but said an approach which equips people for life in a diverse society is needed - rather than just a reactive response.

3FF Director Stephen Shashoua added: "There is an urgent need to promote effective methods for policymakers and educators to better deal with the complex realities around religion and belief. Young people need the skills to successfully navigate and thrive in our diverse society.

"Through our work in both the UK and Sweden have seen first-hand how intercultural approaches can help shift perceptions, attitudes and behaviours in a more positive direction."

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