PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 December, 2008, 12:00am

Debate on religion should not be labelled as bullying in our secular schools

I read with interest your article 'Bullies targeting faithful' (Education Post, November 22). While I do not condone bullying and abhor the violence associated with extreme bullying, it would be a worrying development if criticism of religion became seen to be bullying.

Such an outcome could only be construed as an effort to appease religious groups by a government too weak-willed to take on the vested interests of the 'religion industry'.

Religion gets afforded a status it does not deserve and is protected from criticism through many misguided government policies. For example, education officials in the UK have recently refused to include humanist philosophy in the religious studies curriculum, in a move that is blatantly aimed to protect religious belief from cross-examination by rational means of enquiry.

As a committed atheist I believe all religion should be as open to scrutiny and criticism as is science, philosophy and any other human endeavour.

More importantly the adherents of religions should not be allowed to hide behind the concept of faith to avoid being challenged by debate about their beliefs.

It is hard to raise non-religious children in a rational and non-discriminatory way when one is confronted by the damaging influences of evangelical cults and the absurdity of religious icons in everyday life.

Even in Hong Kong one cannot escape the clutches of religion, even at secular international education providers.

For example, my children have been confronted and scarred in their formative years by many subtle and pervasive influences of religion. An example is a US teacher at a secular international kindergarten who thought it was a good idea that they 'learned to pray'.

Another international kindergarten routinely put up the Nativity scene at Christmas and now, in primary school, their teachers wear crucifixes or headscarves in the classroom.

I must explain to my children that although they must accept these individuals, they are none the less different and wrong in their beliefs.

Anti-bullying overreaction will not solve the problem of discrimination against religious individuals. Only when religions and their icons are removed from public life can people - whether they are humanist, secular or religious - understand and tolerate each other better.

A.E. JAMES, Tai Po

Trips a good complement to classroom learning

I would like to share my opinion on the recent decision to make school trips compulsory in the mainland. Why not take students out of the schools?

Parents and principals on the mainland are concerned about the decision to make school trips compulsory. They are worried about their ability to pay for the trips and the aim of the trips, which is, according to the Nanfang Daily, to help citizens develop their tourism consciousness from childhood and, some say, to boost domestic consumption.

The intention might be commercial but parents and principals cannot deny that students can learn a lot from travelling. When you are not at school, or out travelling, you are more relaxed and this can help you learn better.

Furthermore, learning about a culture, a language or the history of a place while you are actually there is far more efficient than learning from books.

Travelling can open students' eyes, widen their horizons and encourage them to learn about new things. All these can better equip students with the skills or the attitudes they need.

Some parents say students might be stressed during the trips and the trips are time-consuming so there might be less time available to teach the syllabus.

I think the education departments can make some arrangements for the content of the trips to ensure that they are not too packed and include more interactive sections so students won't get stressed out.

Furthermore, school syllabuses can also be rearranged, perhaps to cover more of what students learnt in their trips and less of the original syllabus.

On parents' concerns about the financial burden of these trips, I think that subsidies should be offered to school kids who cannot afford the trips.

DENISE TAM, Kowloon Bay

Student voice would advance education

I recently read an article concerning students' voices in Hong Kong's secondary education environment (Education Post, November 1).

I presently teach at and am the lead faculty academic adviser at Upper Iowa University, a United States university in Hong Kong.

I could not agree more that student voice is important and would forward the educational process at the secondary level and beyond, to the university level.

I continue to experience Chinese students at the university level who will not voice their opinions or provide appropriate input to the learning process.

I am told by Chinese instructors that this is due to their educational culture experience in primary and secondary schools that does not support student input, questions or constructive discussion or dialogue with instructors.

If Hong Kong secondary culture changes to embrace student input and dialogue, both in the classroom and elsewhere, it can certainly advance the educational process at the secondary level and beyond to the university level as well.

DR DAVE EICHER, assistant professor, Upper Iowa University, Hong Kong