Should Pupils Study All Faiths? Minority Religions May Be on Curriculum

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PUPILS could be taught about obscure faiths such as Baha'i and Zoroastrianism under a proposed shake-up of religious education.

Children as young as 14 may be given lessons in the minority religions, some of which have only a few thousand British adherents.

The move, which follows claims earlier this week that atheism should be taught in schools, would mean children learning beliefs such as the Zoroastrian tradition that the dead should be eaten by vultures.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority will publish draft guidelines on a new RE curriculum in April.

The advice is also expected to say that pupils should be taught about humanism and other major faiths alongside Christianity.

All schools must offer religious education, but there is currently no national guidance on what should be taught.

The QCA guidelines will not be mandatory, but are likely to be taken up by many schools.

The disclosure follows a row earlier this week following an Institute for Public Policy Research report claiming RE should be renamed religious, philosophical and moral education and lessons should include teaching about atheism.

The draft guidelines are not thought to mention atheism, but they suggest a place for humanism - which emphasises secular beliefs over religious ones.

The advice also says that minority religions should feature 'in addressing local needs and circumstances'.

The Baha'i faith, which believes all religions have true and valid origins, has around 6,000 observers in Britain.

Meanwhile, Jains believe in living lives of harmlessness and renunciation and are often vegetarians or celibate. There are thought to be 30,000 in Britain.

Zoroastrians, who believe there is a cosmic war being waged between good and evil, number some 140,000 worldwide, mainly in Iran and India.

The dead are traditionally left atop towers to be eaten by vultures.

The guidance, which could be in schools as soon as September, will say that Christianity should be taught throughout children's school careers.

Other major UK religions such as Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism should be taught by the age of 16.

The draft guidance says: 'Pupils should be encouraged to see diversity and difference as positive rather than potentially threatening.' But the plans to include little-known faiths sparked controversy last night.

Colin Hart, director of the Christian Institute, said the QCA should not lose sight of the fact that Christianity is the religion observed by the vast majority of Britons and a 'large proportion' of children are still ignorant over the basics.

He added: 'There may conceivably be one school or ward in Britain where it would be relevant to learn about the Baha'i faith, but to say it should be in national guidance is going down a ridiculous road.

'I have no problem in principle with children learning about other faiths, but teaching has to do that in a way which respects the integrity and cohesion of those faiths. …