EDITORâ€”I read that the Cabinet wants to drop Religious Education from the school syllabus arguing that it is best taught or learned at home and/or in places of worship. It is true that the home and places of worship are often places for disseminating religious ideas and values.
Their approach to religion is mostly devotional. However, Religious Education (RE) in school takes a different form.
The approach first of all is to provide information or knowledge.
This knowledge may be general or phenomenologicalâ€”asking what constitutes religion and how it differs from or relates to other areas of human experience such as economics, law, culture, and morality. The approach may also be the study of a particular religion such as Christianity or Islam.
By studying religion, pupils identify similarities and differences between two or more religions and may examine how religions could unite around certain issues.
The pupils may also be presented with a list of the worldâ€™s religions. Examples are African Traditional Religions, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Bahai, and Shintoism.
Learning about religion(s) this way increases pupilsâ€™ knowledge of the world in which they live, especially given that certain areas of the world are identified or co-extensive with particular religions.
Learning religion or learning about religion is not only about religion. It also involves learning about people, including their histories. Teaching about a religion may also involve the story of its expansion, thus adding to the pupilsâ€™ historical knowledge.
In learning about religion, pupils will learn that it is not just a system of ideas or a mere learning about beliefs and practices. They may also learn how the religion has changed over time, and therefore learn that religion changes and does not remain static.
They can therefore learn how historical events have influenced religion and how religion has influenced history.
Few homes or places of worship will expose a child to more than one religion or to a religion different from that practised by the parents.
Then again, not all parents understand the tenets of their religion or in position to teach the religion intelligibly. Furthermore, the teaching of religion involves more than reading or reciting the Scriptures of the religion in question.
It may involve study of the period of its founder or great prophetic figure. It will draw on sources or resources that may not be accessible at home or at a place of worship. How many homes or mosques or churches have religious commentaries?
Yet another aim for teaching RE quite apart from providing information or knowledge is to sharpen the pupilsâ€™ critical faculties.
Religion is not only about values; it is also about the question of truth; it is about the ultimate source of truth, beauty, and morality. Unless they are exceptionally open and critical, many parents or places of worship may not teach a critical approach to religion. This is only possible in a safe space provided by the classroom.
It seems to me that those advocating the removal of RE from the syllabus are actually advocates of an instrumentalist education.
What Ugandan schools need are good teachers of RE and good RE syllabuses capable of stretching the pupilsâ€™ imagination and inculcating values of human flourishing and care for the environment.
The Rev. Amos Kasibante
Religion is learning about people