26th January 2001 at 00:00
BELIEF FILE. Sikhism and Buddhism. BBC Education. Set of three videos pound;7.50. Teacher's notes by Pad Masri and Elizabeth Wayne. pound;5.

These programmes have come a long way since Believe it or Not, the video staple of so many religious education departments. The development of resources that make informed and appropriate links between theology and contemporary issues is timely. This is particularly important in the case of Sikhism, so often neglected by teachers.

In the first of these fresh and lively programmes, equality is identified as a key Sikh concept. Much of the material is familiar - the gurdwara and worship, the langar, the story of Guru Nanak - but there are fresh insights.

The programme begins with girls playing football. The story of Baljit Singh leading a group of Sikhs from Hounslow to assist Kosovan refugees is fascinating and challenges stereotypes. It presents members of ethnic minority groups as the "helpers" not the "helped". Religious people are seen assisting those outside their own faith communities.

Tony, one half of "The Funjabis", a Sikh comedy duo, doesn't wear a turban but feels his Sikh identity strongly.

Programme two considers "commitment and diversity" in a way that is relevant and accessible to those who may have little experience or understanding of Sikhism. The discussion explores the pressures on young Sikhs to maintain cultural and religious traditions while at the same time enjoying the attractions of conteporary lifestyle.

The third programme, on Buddhism, is less thematic, instead weaving examples of contemporary Buddhist life around the story of Prince Siddharta. The key concepts are here, however: impermanence, interconnectedness and karma. Again the strength of this programme lies in the choice of interviewees: a student from the only Buddhist school in Europe, and two converts to Buddhism, including one who became a monk at the Samye Ling temple and monastery in Scotland.

I particularly like the presentation of the theme of interconnectedness and the environment. Stunning nature photography helps to portray the paradoxes of the natural world: magnificence and fragility; stability and flux. The programme communicates the essence of Buddhism as anti-materialistic, yet close to the natural world; simple yet spiritual; vibrant and peaceful.

Ideally the activities in the teachers' notes could be more structured. They offer a starting point but no more, tending to revolve around information-gathering rather than encouraging students to reflect on and respond to the issues raised.

I like the quirkiness of these videos and will definitely use them in my own classroom. I'm particularly impressed by the programmes on Sikhism with their interesting and articulate interviewees. The people and their stories will engage the interest of most secondary students.

Janet Orchard is head of RE at the Central Foundation girls' school, east London

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