Religious intolerance; what’s the answer?

Secondary teachers in the UK will need to become better prepared for classroom complexities around religious diversity in schools in the face of growing multiculturalism, a leading education expert has warned.

Dr Michael Hymans, Chartered & HCPC Registered Educational and Child Psychologist said the dangers of religious discrimination and bullying in secondary schools could increase dramatically if heads and teachers failed to take the lead in educating students about anti-discrimination and religious tolerance, particularly at the adolescence stage of development.

“It is between the ages of 12 and 18 that students begin to form their core ideas about who they are and who other people are, especially in terms of the way they relate to different peers and groups,” he explained.

“As such, students need adult mentors and role models to guide them on how make good decisions, how to treat others, and how to control their emotions – especially with regards to complex topics like religion.”

Dr Hymans recommended that teachers actively educate students about rights and responsibilities under the law, to promote respect for other students and create a school ethos of religious acceptance.

“Teachers are best to tackle the issue head on. They should talk to students about discrimination, racism, sexism and other biases; encourage open discussions about different backgrounds and cultures to highlight the danger of prejudices and the unfairness of stereotyping an entire group of people,” he said.

“This doesn’t always have to be done in conventional way. Lighter activities like discussing holiday celebrations or cooking ethnic foods can be very effective. When students are taught about new cultures, their tends to be less fear around things that may seem odd or different.”

“Teachers can also use relevant texts to spur discussions about different cultures and the dangers of religious bullying. Exploring themes through fictional characters can help to spark positive discussions in classrooms, and link to experiences that students may be experiencing in their own everyday lives,” he concluded.

Dr Hymans comments come ahead of a controversial new movie called Stations of the Cross, which is in UK cinemas 28 November. The film shows the struggles that a teenage girl from an extreme Catholic sect faces in trying to express her religious beliefs within a largely secular school environment.

A link to the film’s trailer can be viewed here