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Religious teaching on the rise?

According to the preliminary analysis, carried out by UNESCO’s International Bureau of Education (IBE, Geneva, Switzerland)**, religious education appears as a compulsory subject in the timetables of 73 of the countries surveyed o­n at least o­ne occasion during the first nine years of schooling.

In 54 of these countries, the time to be devoted to religious instruction during the first six years of education amounts to an average of 388.4 hours or approximately 8.1 percent of total intended teaching time.

The authors say this indicates a ‘visible increase’ in the proportion of time dedicated to this subject since previous research published a decade ago, and a reversal of the decline in religious teaching which that research showed had marked most of the past century.

In the new data set being assembled by the IBE, two countries stand out: Saudi Arabia and Yemen, where respectively 31 percent (1,458 hours) and 28.2 percent (1,104 hours) of total intended time for academic instruction during the first six years is given to religious instruction. This is, o­n average, three times more than the time allocated in other countries.

The debate within Europe over the way religion should be dealt with in education was relaunched after the attack o­n the World Trade Centre o­n September 11, 2001, writes James Wimberley of the Council of Europe. That event, he says, was seen as ‘a wake-up call’ to tackle the ‘widespread and serious problem of poor community relations in Europe,’ where ‘mutual mistrust, intolerance, racist incidents, and discrimination mainly take an ethnic form, but sometimes a religious o­ne.’ ‘Intercultural and interfaith dialogue’ it has been decided, will become o­ne of the major axes of the Council’s development.
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