Religion, with associated questions of ethics and morals, has become a high-profile global issue, and one consequence is that religious education (RE) is growing in popularity among secondary school pupils. GCSE and A-level entries are up, and there's a teacher recruitment drive going on.
The subject's profile is also raised by the recent publication of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's Non Statutory Guidance on RE.
So, with specialist RE teachers at a premium, there's a real need for good, professionally produced ICT resources that can speak to and motivate children, while at the same time plugging gaps in the teacher's own expertise. The good news is that there really are excellent resources out there. The bad news is that ICT is used less in RE than in most other subjects. In 2003, only 27 per cent of secondary schools and 9 per cent of primaries reported "substantial" use of ICT in RE. Equivalent figures for English, for example, were 81 per cent in secondary and 58 per cent in primary (DfES survey SFR192002 ICT in Schools) Perhaps the most powerful attribute of good RE software is that it can take children to the heart of a faith community - exploring its places and acts of worship - in this country and in others, meeting its leaders, visiting ordinary believers in their homes, listening to adults and children as they explain what their faith means to them. Thus ICT can help to address both the key curriculum targets of "learning about religion" and "learning from religion".
Tony Parfitt, senior associate at research and development organisation the Culham Institute with a special interest in ICT, agrees. He also points to the possibilities for schools and individuals to be connected to each other, and he cites the UK school that had an email debate on capital punishment with a Kentucky high school.
This is an area where a number of really excellent CD-Roms have, with revisions and improvements, stood the test of time. Granada Learning has two that are widely praised - Exploring World Religions (for upper primary and early key stage 3) and Aspects of Religion for upper secondary, including GCSE. Each looks at major world faiths, not only using wonderful images, but also listening to people for whom their faith is a major part of life (each Pounds 49 single user, pound;288 site licence).
Another very comprehensive resource comes in the form of Living Religions, a series from I-SeekMicrobooks. There's a CD-Rom for each of the major faiths - Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Hinduism - and one on Humanism. They're pound;34 each, or you can buy the whole set for pound;199. For primary, there's a single CD with the basics of all the faiths at Pounds 39.
A feature of this series is the amount of detail you get on each CD - typically an hour of video and three hours of audio, and hundreds of still images. You also have the complete text of the holy book of the faith being studied - the whole of the Bible, for example.
Detail of a different kind comes from Birchfield Interactive, which produces a range of RE titles as double CD-Roms - one with the basic content, and another with the necessary components to produce a multimedia presentation. Its Places of Worship series on Christianity and other major faiths cost pound;99.95 for each double CD-Rom.
Another excellent CD-Rom resource is Christians: the Life of a Local Church from React Multimedia. This tells the basics of Christian belief in words, video and music through the eyes of the people in a real suburban parish church (pound;95 site licence). A companion product, Sikhs: the Life of a Local Gurdwara, is expected in the new year.
All these CD-Rom resources are ambitious and comprehensive. However, if you want cheap, cheerful and excellent, take a look at the CD-Rom on Noah, Primary Explorer - Noah, from EduTech Systems (available from retailer REM). It's for KS1 and it tackles what is a popular topic at that level. At pound;9.95 for a single user it's hardly worth not getting it for home use (site licence Pounds 100).
For all RE teachers, though, the starting point is the Culham Institute.
It's a huge repository of expertise and information for RE teachers with access to lots of resources and reviews, and has links to other websites including its own definitive "RE Site". At BETT, the institute will be launching a new website for education, www.reonline.org.uk, which will incorporate the RE Site, and add lots of new content specifically intended to help teachers, with resources and assessment materials.
Support via the web is also available on the QCA website, at www.qca.org.ukages3-14subjectsre.html. The non-statutory guidance document is available there, and resources on religious buildings, festivals and celebrations, and symbols.
Birchfield Interactive Stand E 105
Tel: 029 2059 7000
Granada Learning Stands E40F40
Tel: 0845 602 1937
REM Stand M83
Tel: 01485 254700
Tel: 01865 284885
Tel: 01252 668484
QCA Stand Y36
Tel: 020 7509 5556
Tel: 0114 268 0365 www.reactmm.co.uk