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Authentic voices talk to each other

Faiths in Britain Today Science and Religion. Both edited by Rosemary Rivett pound;8.50 each. Building e-Bridges. By Julia Ipgrave pound;8. REtoday Services.

Although these A4 teachers' booklets are published by a subsidiary of the charity Christian Education, they are in no way partisan.

These are genuinely ecumenical publications in the widest sense, the first two being part of a termly series for use in secondary schools, available by subscription or individually, while the third is a stand-alone guide and relevant to those teaching key stage 2 upwards.

Basically they are 32-page pamphlets, offering a number of lesson ideas.

They may seem expensive but, in two cases, the price does grant the purchaser photocopying rights of the worksheet pages.

Many RE teachers will agree that, in order to grasp an understanding of what it means to be religious and to belong to a particular faith, it is necessary to hear authentic voices from within those faiths. But even in multi-faith schools, there may not be representatives of all religions able or willing to articulate their faiths coherently - or, if there are, they may be voluble yet atypical adherents. Equally, it is rarely practical to invite visiting representatives of every world faith into each classroom.

To overcome these problems, Faiths in Britain Today offers interviews with teenagers representing different traditions within Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, Jainism and Rastafarianism. So, for example, we hear the convictions of a Roman Catholic of Philippine origin and an evangelical from Belfast and the experiences of both Orthodox and Liberal Progressive Jews. Together with these photocopiable interviews (and related worksheets), there are teacher notes suggesting separate activities for the 11 to 13 and 14 to 16 age groups including starting points for discussion, relevant web links and other support materials.

A similar format is used in Science and Religion which explores "the creative interface" between these two subjects which students often regard as mutually irreconcilable. A range of quotations from different scientists illustrates the diversity of their views and encourages student reaction.

There are sections on miracles, the nature of reality is explored as is the way religion and science are presented in the media. Two of the most useful projects will be helpful across the curriculum: one is on the construction of an argument and the other is on the precise use of language. Given its subject area and the issues raised, this booklet is principally relevant to key stage 4 projects.

It must be said that the instructions in some of the worksheets in both booklets are occasionally ambiguous. Necessary numbers are omitted in one case and I am still unsure what is the purpose of an "interpretation diamond". Notes directed to teachers appear on some pupil sheets while others (once photocopied) must be cut up into impractically small, postage stamp sized "cards".

On the other hand, Julia Ipgrave's teacher's manual is a supremely sensible guide to inter-faith dialogue by email. It borrows heavily from a project in which Year 5 and 6 pupils in a Leicester inner city junior school serving a predominantly Muslim community and a suburban Catholic primary school developed a lengthy interchange about their religious convictions and practices.

She offers a wealth of information on setting-up of such a partnership, the pairing of pupils (including issues of gender and privacy), IT practicalities and the problems of timetabling the exchanges and maintaining the initial momentum. There is also eminently practical help on the development of electronic dialogue skills and on the evaluation of such a project. Indeed, this would be an equally useful guide to similar exchanges in a whole variety of subject areas.

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