A cruel test of pupils' faith

14th January 2005 at 00:00
When the terrible news of the tsunami earthquake came on TV my first thoughts, of course, were of disbelief, horror and sympathy at the unfolding tragedy. And then I started to think about the questions that would come from pupils when we returned to school after the Christmas break.

I do not think a lesson has passed during this first week back where the tragedy has not been mentioned. Sometimes by the pupils themselves - as a religious education teacher I am often called upon to defend religious viewpoints.

It so happened that Year 10 was just starting the unit God, Life and Death.

We began by exploring the nature of God, and then moved on to arguments for and against the existence of God.

Pupils of all abilities have pointed to the disaster as proof that God cannot exist, or that if he does he is very cruel and uncaring of his creation. I have listened with interest to responses from religious leaders, Christian, Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist, and I have brought them into the lessons.

It is a test of faith, an opportunity for humans to show compassion. It allows us to earn karma, it is beyond human understanding. I see that the explanations fail to convince, and I have sympathy with my students'

incredulity.

Once again a news story breaks, and teachers can bring it into lessons to relate what we study to the real world. Teachers of all subjects, I'm sure, will have made reference to the disaster.

There probably will not be a geography teacher in the country who has not looked at tsunamis this week. If nothing else it means that more of us know where Indonesia and Thailand are on the map.

Today, at last, we received news of a former colleague who had left us to take up a teaching post in Jakarta, Indonesia. She has survived the disaster but some of her students have not. She has decided to remain there to do what she can to help.

It impresses me that pupils genuinely care about the suffering. My usually noisy Y11 managed a dignified silence for the tribute at noon. With luck we will hold a non-uniform day and raise close to pound;2,000. If every school child in Britain could pay pound;1 think how much could be raised, and with so little effort.

Dawn Jones is head of religious studies at Prestatyn high school, Denbighshire. Her fee will go to the disaster relief appeal

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