Archbishop Nichols: "faith is a crucial dimension in education"

Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the new Archbishop of Westminster gave a strong defence of religious education during his address at Heythrop College, London University yesterday.

Speaking at the Education and Young People Conference,  he said that treating students as "consumers" and neglecting their "innate spirituality" would damage society. A tendency to view children in terms of their ability in exams rather than as people risks "polluting" their education, he said.

Archbishop Nichols  stressed that schools play a key role in developing virtues and a sense of civic responsibility.

His comments come in the wake of recent calls for the abolition of school prayers and the suggestion that faith schools indoctrinate pupils.

He explained: "Schools of a religious character are upfront, overt and very reasoned about the values that shape the education .. whereas I think often those that would claim to be neutral are covert in the values that they present to the children.

"Schools are the places where such virtue is generated or where it is neglected."

Archbishop Nichols said schools need to concentrate on developing children's character rather than just focusing on results.

"Today we live in a society which tends to instrumentalise everything.

"In other words, everything is broken down to clear objectives and attainments and
each is given its price."

"Once this really takes hold, then education has truly entered the market place and its entire ecological system is threatened with pollution.

"In effect what is happening is that the patterns of the market are flooding over all aspects of life and we are finding ourselves considered as nothing more than consumers and suppliers."

Archbishop Nichols  said Catholic schools have a "crucial role"  to play in creating a "society founded on values such as honesty, justice, compassion and courage".

"There are plenty of indicators in our society today that we need such civic virtues in addition to regulation," he said.

"There can be no genuine human ecology that fails to recognise the faith and religious experience which is innate in human beings and central to many people in our schools today.

"An important part of the construction of a healthy human ecology is therefore that expressions of faith and the practices of religion are given their space within a school, both according to the school's own tradition and mandate and according to the variety of faith and religion which are in that school."

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