It's perhaps inevitable that RE - which often has just one full-time teacher - is, in some schools, at the margin of things, working with a small budget and at the mercy of the timetable when it comes to teaching time and space. Against this background, ICT offers real hope. For example, it enables teachers and students to work with their counterparts in other schools locally - or across the world for that matter. Paul Hopkins, of REFIT (RE from IT - the ICT committee of the Professional Council for Religious Education) and author of Using ICT in RE (Nelson Thornes), says:
"There's the possibility of virtual communities in areas where there's a shared local syllabus - community is very important in this subject."
Already, there is considerable support for RE on the Web - and it's needed, because although religious sites proliferate, it can be difficult to sort out the helpful from the not so helpful, and the not so helpful from the frankly mad. That's why sites such as REFIT's own and others, such as the RE site, together with the links they offer, are so useful.
First, however, teachers and departments have to be able to reach and use the technology - not something that can be taken for granted. When it comes to NOF ICT training, for example, the one or two RE teachers in a school have to work hard to ensure that they have the right training provider. This may mean reminding school managements that each teacher (not just each department, or each school) has the freedom to choose the training provider most suited to his or her needs. REFIT's website has a list of the providers that offer specialist RE tuition, and is beginning to collect views about and experiences of the training. There's also a list of key questions for RE teachers to ask their heads about the choice of NOF trainer - whether RE specialists are involved in writing materials, for example, and whether any face-to-face training includes input from RE specialists. It's also a good idea to talk to RE departments that have already trained.
Actually getting tothe computers is another challenge for many RE teachers. The numbers are against them. If one teacher sees every group for one period a week, then it's unlikely that there will be a departmental network, and yet it's always going to be difficult to book facilities in the face of demand from other areas. In any case, how often should a single weekly lesson be spent in the computer room? Many teachers would want advice when making that decision.
One answer will be found in devices such as interactive whiteboards and data projectors, both of which enable a whole class at least to see a computer screen. Meanwhile, the list of available software remains much as before, although Hopkins suggests that the focus of development is shifting. "The future of RE, like most of the rest of the curriculum, is on the Web," he says.
Meanwhile, most schools still appreciate the quality and convenience of software on CD-Rom, which provides a wealth of excellent images of the kind that are essential if RE is to be interesting to children. It's worth looking at Heinemann's Investigating Christianity, (pound;58.75), Sparrowhawk and Heald's Encyclopaedia of World Religions (pound;50) and Granada Learning's Exploring World Religions (pound;60) Granada's other RE product is Aspects of Religions (pound;80) for key stages 3 and 4 including GCSE, which looks in depth at eight major world faiths, and relates them to contemporary issues. This year the package comes in a new edition, with new images and additional sections. These include children giving personal views of their faiths, virtual tours of places of worship, and multiple choice questions.
Gerald Haigh is a freelance writer and former headteacher
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