Why religious education should remain in curriculum
Religious education is part of our school curriculum and traditions. It reflects in various forms such as praying in the assembly, before food, having prayers day for candidates, conducting prayers and sometimes preaching during parents’ meetings, and having religious books a requirement.
Religious subjects are examinable in the school and national examinations. However, some people wonder if it is necessary to have religious education as part of the curriculum when we are a secular nation. I believe having some form of religious education is vital because of the morals and ethics taught to children to shape their lives into good and compassionate human beings. Christianity, Buddhism, Islam and other religions teach kindness, love and forgiveness. These positive teachings are essential for cohesion and peace in school and beyond learning institutions.
A letter written by the atheists in the Kenya society urged the ministry of education to ban prayers in schools as there were suitable places (churches and mosques) to instill beliefs. They claimed that the school is tasked with providing learners with critical reasoning and decision-making skills, not memorizing facts and reciting dogma. Other opponents of religious education may argue that religion has horrific stories that contradict the messages on love, peace, and kindness in the same religious books.
Others argue that there are other ways of teaching ethical values besides relying on religious education. They argue that non-religious historical stories showcasing people with great character, values, morals, and ethics can be used to pass the message intended, showing that values and ethics are not synonymous with religion. They add that there is proof of non-religious households successfully raising children that respect and care for others, function well in society, and are more accommodating to people with diverse backgrounds. They also cite the ability of religious beliefs, just like politics, to divide if not accurately understood. Thus, most opponents assert that it would be better if religious education were optional and not compulsory to ensure that the interests of all learners, religious and non-religious, are respected.
However, not only religious education has violent content being taught in our schools. The history of the colonial period, conflict resolution, bullying, and other societal contemporary issues taught in our schools are often gruesome. Thus, we cannot advocate for the scrapping of religious education based on its violent topics but rather have the teachers trained on the appropriate content for the right age. When children are presented with a broad spectrum of religious beliefs, they get the opportunity to be aware of different religions that help them separate the faith they are cultured into from becoming a personal matter of their being. They understand the fundamental differences and similarities in contemporary issues, which helps them draw informed conclusions about future philosophical concepts.
Religious education helps children to be aware of their actions and decisions as they learn about personal reflection. This is important in maintaining discipline in school and helping them become responsible adults. Children also become open-minded, see their peers with different religious beliefs for who they are, and understand that there are other ways that people believe in similar things that allow for varying beliefs to converge at a similar destination. In addition to doing well in academic skills, children exposed to religious education thrive in humanistic advantages. Thus, by letting children understand different religions, they can view diverging religious opinions in an objective manner that eliminates ignorance, prejudice, and division. Children need to grow up knowing that people share their views on various human phenomena differently and that everyone has the liberty to have their viewpoint respected in a world where a multi-faith society is a norm. Embracing these differences from an individual perspective helps mold and shape the world’s culture, tolerance, and acceptance.
—Caroline Nderitu is an author of children’s books and a poet