Source: The Australian, Wednesday, 17 April, 1996, p.4
By education writer CAROLYN JONES FORMAL religious courses failed to improve secondary school students' tolerance of ethnic groups, landmark Australian research shows. The Australian Catholic Uni- versity study of nearly 2000 Year 11 and 12 students found that the more students learned about religions other than their own, the more they appeared likely to refer to those who practised such religions in negative terms. The survey, which focused on students enrolled in the NSW Studies of Religion subject, examined the effects of the formal study of religion on student attitudes by comparing their views at the beginning and end of the course. While the students admitted the formal study of religion gave them a greater understanding of different religions they became more prejudiced against Muslims, Asians, Aborigines and homosexuals. The academic who compiled the study, Associate Professor Pat Malone, head of the Australian Catholic University's religious education department, will present the findings at the National Catholic Education Commission's conference in Canberra this month. Professor Malone said the research posed a challenge to religious educators because it showed there was more to religious education than just reading facts out of a textbook. "Students who had done less formal study of the major religious traditions other than Christianity did not show as great an increase in prejudice against these traditions," she said yesterday. Professor Malone said while it was not possible to isolate other influences such as normal adolescent development attitudes from parents and friends, and personal experience, the formal study of religion seemed to increase the level of prejudice. "There are many factors involved in the process of developing prejudice and although ignorance is a contributing factor, simply learning about a religion is not sufficient to change attitudes." Professor Malone said religious educators had to offer different learning experiences that would help students to appreciate other religious perspectives. The study involved students from 22 religious affiliated secondary schools throughout NSW. They included Catholic, Anglican, Christian community and Jewish schools. Students were asked to respond to a range of questions and tasks that included ticking the people they would not like to have as a neighbour from a list of 19 categories that included Aborigines, Muslims, homosexuals, the elderly, criminals and Buddhists. Students displayed a higher level of prejudice against Aborigines even though Aboriginal spirituality formed a core part of the course.
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