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Soaps put the life back into religion

EastEnders and Corrie storylines spark best ethical and moral classroom debates

Soap-loving teenagers who bring up moral issues from the latest episode of Coronation Street contribute to the best RE lessons, it was claimed this week.

Tudor Thomas, from the WJEC, the Welsh exam board, said young people hooked by the latest soap storyline, be it a marriage break-up, domestic violence or terminal illness, were helping to keep the subject alive.

"Issues-based learning in religious education is so important today," said subject officer Mr Thomas.

"Pupils bring up whatever saga is affecting Ian Beale in EastEnders in class, and good RE teachers develop that line."

Each school in Wales follows a syllabus drawn up by a committee representing individual local authorities. The group must include leaders from different faith groups and teachers.

A multi-cultural approach to RE is seen as compulsory with the rise of religious extremism. The current GCSE short course, brought in 10 years ago by the WJEC, ushered in huge changes. It has also led to increased popularity at A-level, with 2,000 candidates sitting this year - four times the number when Mr Thomas joined the exam board 12 years ago.

Pupils are now able to bring up their up their own moral dilemmasJ based on their own life experiences after a recent review of guidance on the RE syllabus.

Sixth-form students at Cardiff's Whitchurch high school last week took part in a debate on the moral questions surrounding euthanasia as part of that remit.

It is the latest in a series of RE conferences at the school.

Professor Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, a consultant in palliative medicine and chronic pain at Velindre NHS Trust, Cardiff, led a discussion on the medical profession's response to mercy killings.

Her contribution was based on her personal experience with her terminally ill mother, who had told her she wanted to die.

But Baroness Finlay argued: "It is incredibly dangerous for doctors to be allowed to decide whether to kill their patients."

Pupils challenged Baroness Finlay and Dr Victoria Wheatley, palliative medicine consultant in Aberdare and Merthyr Tydfil, saying that patients should have the right to die if they felt they could no longer bear their suffering.

The pupils were given scenarios that Baroness Finlay and Dr Wheatley face daily, and they were then invited to vote on how they would respond.

Pupils also heard the views of the Anglican and Catholic churches on euthanasia, as well as the perspective of a Buddhist contributor.

Anthea Parker, head of RE at Whitchurch, said ethics and philosophy were now included in the A-level syllabus.

"Our pupils argue over the existence of God, miracles and life after death.

This subject has really moved on."

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