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The ethos of belief

Ewan Aitken's article "Reasons to believe" (TESS, March 1) is remarkable because he seems to want to make a distinction between religion and belief. At the same time he wants to remove religious and moral education and makes a plea for putting time and teaching into beliefs and moral decision-making.

The problem with this is that RME is the major area of the curriculum that deals systematically with belief and moral decision-making. One of the aims of 5-14 RME is to help pupils to develop their own beliefs, attitudes, moral values and practices through a process of personal search, discovery and critical evaluation.

I admit all is not necessarily well with RME in our schools. The recent HMI report on the subject in secondary schools records progress made but also identifies what can be improved. Mr Aitken wishes teaching about belief and moral decision-making to be less peripheral.

The place of RME within any individual school depends on the approach taken on the structure and balance of the curriculum by the headteacher and senior management team who have to juggle with a bewildering number of claims.

There are compelling reasons for stepping back and reviewing how well our schools help young people develop intellectually, emotion-ally and spiritually. The treatment meted out to Muslims and Asian minorities after September 11 confirmed that prejudice and acts of discrimination can surface all too quickly in Scottish life.

Add our current preoccupation with sectarianism and you realise that we need to think harder about how we foster relationships within our communities.

We need a school education that encourages our young people to know about their neighbours, their stories, perspectives, beliefs and their lifestyle.

RME contributes to the education of our youngsters by helping them explore beliefs and moral values from a number of religious and cultural traditions. In the process, pupils engage in a personal search for what they believe and value in life.

It is important that teachers of RME are given the space and time to do a proper job so that our children avoid the misunderstandings and misconceptions that, in previous generations, engendered sectarianism, racism and discrimination.

Jack Laidlaw Convener Church of Scotland Education Committee George Street, Edinburgh

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