KNAW subsidy strengthens cooperation between Leiden religious scholars and secondary school teachers
Markus Altena Davidsen was 'extremely happy' when he heard that he and his colleagues had been awarded a grant from the KNAW pilot fund for science communication. Together with partners from all over the country, they are working on a book that should inspire secondary schools to renew their education about religion and philosophy of life. With the 10,000 euros, they want to make the book better, more beautiful and cheaper.
'I was very happy that we received this token of appreciation, because it sends a signal that the type of science communication we are doing is considered important,' says Davidsen. He is involved in transferring knowledge from science to secondary school teachers of religion and philosophy. More of this is needed, he thinks. 'I would like to see the humanities take on a higher profile in teacher training programmes, and want to encourage university lecturers focus their valorisation more on secondary school teachers. Collaborating with education is the most obvious way to show our relevance to society.'
Besides science communication towards teachers, Davidsen is also committed to education in other ways. 'I am currently leading a group of teachers and education specialists who are developing an advisory national curriculum for the field of philosophy and religion. We are doing this within the Expertise Centre for Philosophy of Life and Religion in Secondary Education (LERVO), a collaboration that includes all 17 teacher training programmes for our field. For us, the professionalisation of teachers and development of the curriculum go hand in hand.'
Inspiration book for teachers
As an extension to the new curriculum, the researchers involved will also produce an inspiration book for secondary school teachers: Philosophy of Life and Religion in Perspectives. The Leiden religious scholars with whom Davidsen received the KNAW subsidy are writing chapters on Islam, contemporary spirituality and ancient religions. He believes such a book is badly needed. 'Because of Article 23 of the Constitution, the government takes a more hands-off approach and doesn’t support the development of our discipline,' says Davidsen. 'Moreover, as a teacher of religion, you don't have to be especially competent in the subject matter. This means that there are many unqualified teachers in the classroom.' He considers this to be 'super crazy', because it creates a gap in knowledge and offers schools little guidance for their educational programme.
'Together with the LERVO Expertise Centre, we want to improve the quality of education and cohesion in the field. Unlike the government, we aren’t able to impose the advisory curriculum, but the curriculum is something that schools can use to strengthen their own teaching. All the important parts of the curriculum will be highlighted in the inspiration book,' he explains. Davidsen says that the inspiration book can be seen as an 'ingredients list'. 'We describe all the possible ingredients that can be put into a curriculum. These are the philosophical traditions and the building blocks they consist of - such as rituals and beliefs. But it is also the different perspectives from which you can look at philosophy of life and religion and the accompanying teaching methods. We show which ingredients go well together, as well as giving general tips for the cook. Teachers and schools can use all this to revise their existing curricula. But they decide how to do it. They remain the chefs.'
Besides the official target group of current teachers, Davidsen and his colleagues are indirectly aiming at method makers with the inspiration book as well. 'They also say they have too little to go on, so they do what they think is right. That is why you see that the methods for religion/philosophy are so different from each other,' Davidsen points out. 'The method-makers say they need input from scientists and teachers, so I hope that our inspiration book will bring new methods to the market. If that happens, it would have a hugely positive impact on the field.'
Opening new doors
In any case, the recognition from the KNAW Pilot Fund opens doors for Davidsen's project. 'It has made it possible to raise our ambitions a lot. At first, we just wanted to distribute the inspiration book via the internet, but you would rather have something like that printed. Now we can maybe offer the book for 12 euros instead of 25 euros. That already helps enormously.' Still, Davidsen dreams of more. 'In my wildest dreams we will get so much money together that we can just print it and send it to all 1,200 teachers of religion/life studies in the Netherlands.'