Page last updated at 11:21 GMT, Tuesday, 9 June 2009 12:21 UK

Blair's 'religious literacy' call

By Sean Coughlan
BBC News education reporter

Tony Blair
Tony Blair says many conflicts have a "faith dimension"

A global education programme designed to foster understanding between religions has been launched by the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.

The project, launched by the former prime minister, is intended to promote dialogue between young people from different faiths and backgrounds.

It argues that "religious literacy" is a "vital skill" in a globalised and multicultural society.

The project is running in schools in Asia, North America and Europe.

The Faith Foundation, created by Mr Blair after stepping down as prime minister, has the aim of fostering better relations and understanding between world religions.

'Fanaticism'

The launch of the education arm was marked by an international video link-up between pupils from Bolton, Delhi and Bethlehem.

Pupils in the Middle East will be among those taking part - in an area where Mr Blair is now a peace envoy.

"If you look round the different parts of the world and you look at conflicts, I would say a very large percentage of them have a religious dimension or a faith dimension to them," said Mr Blair at the launch in London.

"So to get young people at an early age to be comfortable with people of a different faith is extremely important."

The Face to Faith scheme will use online forums and video conferencing to run discussions and debates between groups of 11 to 16-year-olds from different religions.

In England, Westhoughton Technology College in Bolton is taking part in the project - which will have a local as well as international relevance.

"The kids will come up with phrases which generalise about all Muslims. Islamophobia exists at our school but it exists at loads of schools at a low level," said religious education teacher, Jo Malone.

In Pakistan's Sindh Province, the City's School in Bhit Shah is participating. The school has Muslim, Hindu and Sikh students but its head teacher says the "real problem is not fanaticism", but the need for communities to get to know each other.

Schools are also taking part in India, Singapore, Lebanon, Palestinian Territories, Thailand, Indonesia, the United States and Canada.

The project, which has its own syllabus, has been accredited for an International GCSE.

"By encouraging young people to enter into genuine dialogue with each other, Face to Faith leads students to a deeper understanding of their own beliefs and worldviews as well as those of others," says Annika Small, the foundation's education director.

The British Humanist Association expressed its "disappointment" at the project.

"It does seem that this programme may be exclusively for religious people, which would be a missed opportunity for real education about people from all different backgrounds, including non-religious young people throughout the world," said Andrew Copson, the association's education director.



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