Faith Matters recently published a report called A Study of the English Defence League, which considers what draws people of faith to right-wing organisations and what effects the English Defence League has on community cohesion and interfaith relations. One of the report’s key recommendations is that:
“Faith organisations should continue to develop ties with other religious organisations to foster good relations and promote cross-faith solidarity to counter the EDL’s attempts to ‘divide and conquer’. These are on-going processes and such partnerships need a consistency of focus.”
NIACE provided this consistency of focus in 2010 when, commissioned by the Department for Communities and Local Government, it developed a brand new qualification for adults. The qualifications in Faith Community Development (now on the QCF) are open to people of all beliefs, including those who hold none. They have been designed to support faith leaders, workers and volunteers to recognise and develop their ability. And to support the establishment of strong interfaith communities that use their resources to promote social justice and to help improve the quality of community life. A faith leader who took the qualification, said:
“My interest is in…sharing and learning from other faith leaders about their communities (our community) … We all need to work together regarding cohesion and bringing people together…This has given faith leaders and practitioners and community workers such a chance to… build on getting to know each other – feel comfortable and able to share in the group, and break down barriers…..and enjoy the sessions. I can see potential and possibilities for future working together.”
There’s research evidence too, showing how adult learning helps people to more informed viewpoints. NIACE’s publication on lifelong learning found that “…adult learning can have both sustaining and transforming effects on health and health behaviours and some evidence that adult learning can promote civic engagement and change extremist attitudes in adulthood.” Likewise, the Institute of Education’s report shares “…strong evidence that adult education can help to reduce racism, increase civic participation and voting, and improve healthy living.”
So the research evidence and the message from adult learners themselves is clear – adult learning has a crucial role to play in giving people a better understanding of the views of others, leading to stronger and happier communities.