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Atheism in Bangladesh

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Children to study atheism at school

* National exam body plans new guidelines for RE lessons

* Falling church numbers prompt radical syllabus reform

Gaby Hinsliff, chief political correspondent

Sunday February 15, 2004

The Observer

Children will be taught about atheism during religious education classes under official plans being drawn up to reflect the decline in churchgoing in Britain.

Non-religious beliefs such as humanism, agnosticism and atheism would be covered alongside major faiths such as Christianity or Islamunder draft guidelines being prepared by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, which regulates what is taught in schools in England.

Although some schools already cover non-religious beliefs, there is currently no national guidance for what is taught, even though all schools must provide religious education.

The draft plans being drawn up by the QCA will not be compulsory, allowing religious schools the freedom to keep devout parents happy. But they will be regarded as best practice for heads, and are likely to be followed across the country.

A spokesman for the QCA said its guidance would be released for consultation in the summer term, but added: 'It is very much the intention that young people in the context of religious education should be studying non-religious beliefs. There are many children in England who have no religious affiliation and their beliefs and ideas,

whatever they are, should be taken very seriously.'

The plans risk sparking a conflict between evangelists, who want to strengthen faith teaching, and secularists, who argue it is becoming irrelevant to modern life.

The first shot in the debate will be fired with a controversial report to be published tomorrow calling for RE to be renamed religious, philosophical and moral education and children encouraged to debate such ethical issues as whether it is permissible to express racist views.

'The whole thing is terribly biased in favour of religion right now - it's all about encouraging an identification with religion,' said Ben Rogers, author of the report for the Institute for Public Policy Research thinktank.

'There are huge numbers of people who are atheists or whose families are atheists and who are coming into a class where their family's view is not acknowledged. You should be able to have a conversation about ethics that doesn't collapse into a conversation about religion.'

While 19 per cent of Britons attended a weekly religious service in

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