Anji, a 12-year-old Hindu girl, writes: "I think people should respect each other and each other's beliefs, then truly we can have world peace. People should get to know each other's religions and respect them. I think people should know the differences and learn respect one-to-one."
For many years, a key aim of RE has been to enable pupils to develop respectful attitudes towards other people who have different beliefs from their own. The Professional Council for RE, the subject teacher association for religious education professionals, is working with eight schools in four local authority areas to try to show more clearly how this works.
During the coming year, this community cohesion project will bring together 11 to 14-year-olds from schools serving a mixed but largely Muslim population in Bradford and pupils from partner schools in Cumbria, Calderdale and Kirklees, which are mixed but largely white. Nab Wood School in Bradford, for example, is a large inner-city comprehensive twinned with Settlebeck, a small high school in Sedburgh, Cumbria, serving a rural area.
The project, which was supported by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in its early stages, brings together small groups through email links and shared visits to mosques, churches and other "neutral" venues. The aim is to use pupils' own reflections on these encounters as the raw material to explore what contribution RE can make to attitudes of tolerance and respect.
Nab Wood students exchanged letters and emails with their partners before the Settlebeck pupils visited a Bradford gurdwara. They advised them on the dos and don'ts for such a visit, based on their own experiences of Sikhism from Year 8 RE lessons.
In the next phase, pupils will meet face-to-face and take part in team-building exercises in order to break down any barriers caused by ignorance of different cultural practices. One of the most interesting aspects of the research is that while many community leaders look to reinforce the development of the separateness of their communities - be they Christian or Muslim - many of the young participants in the project reject quite firmly all ideas of separatism. Indeed, they strongly embrace the notions of encounter and dialogue, working together, and living together on the basis of a mutual awareness. Between the urban and largely Muslim Nab Wood and the rural calm of Settlebeck, the investigation continues.
Lat Blaylock is executive officer at the Professional Council for Religious Educationwww.pcfre.org.uk; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
BELIEF IN THE FUTURE: WHAT SOME OF THE PUPILS SAID
"We are all children of God - so why can't we get along? In RE I found out that Jesus is in the Qur'an. This made me feel so understanding" - Usman, a 12-year-old Muslim
"Every pea comes from the same pod. A lady came to talk to us about her religion. I learned that Sikhs believe in reincarnation. Truthfully, I don't think anything can be done (about racial and religious conflict) except give a positive attitude to the younger generation and the generations to come" - Charlotte, a 12-year-old Christian
"I think only if we accept our differences can we respect each other.
"If we don't know about each other's religions, then we won't know what each other are like and what we believe and how we go about doing things.
"During Ramadan, I learnt that people draw themselves closer to God by giving up something that they really enjoy. I think that in school lessons you should get into groups with people from different religions to learn about each other." - Emma, a 12-year-old atheist