POST-DEVOLUTION Scotland provides "a moment of opportunity" for looking at ways of promoting a sense of citizenship among young people, an international conference in Glasgow was told at the weekend.
Bob Davis, director of in-service in Glasgow University's faculty of education, said: "We must allow students to be more than competent in skills and forms of learning, and to be able to reflect on the deeper moral purposes of what they are learning in school.
"We are trying to find ways in which people in a number of different disciplines can come together to develop a language for debating ethical values and principles of citizenship with young people.
"In the Scottish context, there exists a moment of opportunity. Post devolution Scotland offers a chance to look at the ways a democratic society formulates its understanding of citizenship and participation."
In his opening address, Sam Galbraith, Children and Education Minister, agreed that school subjects had a role. "The classroom provides an ideal opportunity for developing practical approaches to moral citizenship," Mr Galbraith said. "A key element for the Executive is to give young people a key role in expressing views, aspirations and needs."
The conference, on "The making of moral citizens?", organised by the Association for Moral Education, is the 26th in the series and the first to be held outside North America. Bart McGettrick, dean of the faculty of education at Glasgow University, told delegates that there was a "real tension" between the ideas of the economy and the market-place and the requirement to promote moral, spiritual and personal well-being.
"Education should be characterised by a view of communities which recognises the need to educate individuals wh are inspired by a deep sense of humanity and the dignity of each person," Professor McGettrick said.
"These are people of service who are committed to being 'people for others'. Rather than being people who learn for the sake of a developing economy, they learn for the benefit of humanity."
The needs of people with learning difficulties in Scotland constitute a "major challenge for social justice", according to Lisa Curtice, of the Craighead Institute, an organisation which offers courses for adults to explore the links between faith and social action.
"People with learning disabilities have been socially marginalised through segregation and limited access to employment opportunities, and therefore income. It is widely acknowledged that disempowerment has been a significant factor in the lives of many people with learning disabilities, especially those who have lived in institutions."
She welcomed the fact that the Scottish Executive now has a clear policy on learning disabilities as part of its social inclusion agenda, although she described as "a telling experience" seeing the Parliament chamber empty as the debate on the learning disabilities service review began, only to see it fill up again as the proceedings drew to a close.
"There is a long way to go for decision-makers in all areas of public life to see the access of people with learning disabilities as their responsibility," Ms Curtice said.
Jim Conroy, the conference chair and head of Glasgow University's department of religious education, mounted a strong defence of religious schools. Mr Conroy said that it was important to be open about difference and to embrace difference. It might be the most difficult thing to do but it was also the healthiest.