An online survey was conducted by Insight UK to gauge and understand the state of Hindu Dharma in Religious Education in the UK (United Kingdom) schools from parents and students. The organization states that this was one of the most successful Hindu surveys based on the number of responses received and the good distribution of responses from all four countries in the UK.
The project was supported and guided by the Hindu Forum of Britain, Hindu Council UK, National Council of Hindu Temples (UK), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (UK), and Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (UK).
Religious Education in the UK
Religious Education (RE) is a mandatory subject in state-sponsored schools in the UK. Several concerns have been raised across the country by parents and educationalists about the reduction in the availability, content and quality of teaching Hindu Dharma in Religious Education in UK schools. Grave errors in resource content, lack of understanding among RE teachers and incorrect references are some of the issues that can create a lot of harm. This also adversely impacts UK’s Hindu youth and will impact future generations as well.
“The lack of awareness amongst Hindu students about their religion is leading to issues related to forced conversion, an inferiority complex, bullying, psychological harm and even suicide. At the same time, the lack of awareness about the Hindu religion among non-Hindu students deprives them of a worldview, as well as the religion and culture of one of the largest and most contributing minority communities in the country. This results in ignorance and insensitivity towards Hindu people and their beliefs. This can even lead to racial hate crimes”, notes Insight UK’s website.
Hindu Dharma is the third largest religion practised in the UK, yet the report finds that teaching Hindu Dharma in mainstream UK schools is very limited, flawed and often ignored. This imbalance has led to an inaccurate portrayal of Hindu Dharma and can result in feelings of negativity and ignorance when meeting UK citizens belonging to the Hindu faith.
The researchers came to know that many teachers lacked the necessary training to teach Hindu Dharma. Hence, non-specialist teachers with limited subject knowledge are used at times to teach RE which in turn leads to inadequate teaching. Another issue is the inaccurate content of online teaching resources that usually contain wrongful if not malicious content about Hindu Dharma. This affects the learning of students who are consuming false and inaccurate information taught to them.
One of the parents, whose child was studying the Key Stage 3 curriculum in a UK state comprehensive school, learned Hindu Dharma was hardly taught but Islam was preached. When the mother expressed her concern about the imbalance to the headteacher, she was asked to withdraw her son from RE. The school refused to ask the LEA to review the curriculum and bring a balance of teaching all faiths.
Parents informed that on many occasions, the RE teacher had taught and portrayed Hindu Dharma so negatively and inaccurately during lessons, that their Hindu child had felt extremely disappointed with RE lessons. Children have even reported that their peers expressed contempt towards them based on their misunderstanding of Hindu Dharma.
Furthermore, there are very few awarding bodies offering Hindu studies alongside the study of other religions. Additionally, most UK schools prefer to study Abrahamic faiths as they are easier to teach and gain better exam results as a cohort. This results in a narrow vision of beliefs instead of providing a world view of religions. Moreover, it is the schools that choose the subject on behalf of Hindu students forcing them to opt for Abrahamic faiths instead of their Dharma.
Teachers are choosing Abrahamic religions as this is the easiest option to teach, as often these Abrahamic religions have similarities with each other. As Christian and Muslim school student numbers are larger, the schools are also likely to choose these religions as their choice of study at GCSE. This is thought to help improve the schools’ examination scores. Therefore, the teaching of Hindu Dharma and other religions is severely impacted.
The vast majority of primary schools surveyed were academy schools, free schools, or state comprehensive schools. The majority of the respondents were unaware or not sure of what resources were being used by RE teachers to teach Hindu Dharma. The survey found several instances of misinformation being taught as part of Hindu Dharma. Also, the findings highlight that outdated social issues like the sati system are still taught under Hinduism in RE. It was noted there was an inappropriate link made between religion and gender disparity in education in India.
The secondary schools comprised a diverse range of schools with 80 per cent having their RE syllabus dictated by LEAs. Among the parents of secondary school students as well, the respondents were unaware or not sure of what resources were being used by RE teachers to teach Hindu Dharma.
Secondary school students were also being taught outdated social issues and disproved theories. Further, important Hindu symbols are not being taught which leads to confusion and misunderstanding amongst young impressionable minds. As far as GCSE students were concerned, 93 per cent of respondents stated that Hindu Dharma was not offered at all for GCSE.
On the rare occasion that Hinduism was offered, it was only a full GCSE in around two-thirds of schools. 87% of Hindu parents and children were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the learning of Hinduism at the GCSE level. The findings highlight that many social issues, disproved theories and misinformation that are being taught exclusively as part of Hinduism in UK schools.
A majority of the parents opined that it was very important or extremely important to learn Hindu Dharm which shows that there is an appetite among the Hindu community for their children to learn Dharma. The survey also showed that most used home-schooling to teach Hindu Dharma.
Parents opined that UK schools must teach yoga, ayurveda, meditation, the law of Karma, Vedic Mathematics, Hindu cultural values (Sanskaras), the scientific rationale behind Hindu customs, and Hindu granthas (Ramayana, Mahabharata, Vedas, Gita etc) among others.
Sati tradition, caste system, Hanuman is a monkey god, Hindu Dharma is against women’s rights, the myth of the Aryan invasion, and misinformation taught under the concept of Karma and incarnation are some of the topics that are taught incorrectly or should not be taught. It must be highlighted that 23 per cent of respondents have offered to support, or have supported the school to teach Hindu Dharma. This indicates that teachers may need help from Hindu parents to fill in knowledge gaps.
The majority of respondents stated that they would like to help improve the teaching in some shape or form, including standing as a SACRE member, helping schools with Hinduism, teaching Hinduism outside of school, or even becoming a RE teacher for a school. Insight UK has drafted several suggestions for government & policymakers, SACRE, schools, examination boards, and the Hindu community.
“The project findings and recommendations highlight the need for a dedicated organisation to take this work forward. The vision of the organisation will be to create opportunities for high-quality education in Hinduism in RE in UK schools. To achieve this, the organisation will engage with multiple stakeholders such as the national government, local authorities, exam boards, publishers, teachers, parents and students”, notes the report.
(Featured Image Source: Insight UK)