Psychologists’ report backs secular schools

31 March 2017

iSTOCK

THE more religious a nation’s population is, the less well its children perform in science and mathematics, research by two leading psychologists has found.

The psychologists suggest that their findings should lead to a re-examination of Government policy on investing heavily in faith-based schools; £320 million for new free schools, including faith-based establishments, was announced in this month’s Budget.

The research team leader, Gijsbert Stoet, Professor of Psychology at Leeds Beckett University, said: “Science and mathematics education are key for modern societies. Our research suggests that education might benefit from a stronger secular approach. In that context, the current UK policy of investing more money in faith-based [schools] should be reconsidered.

“The success of schools and education in general directly translates in more productive societies and higher standards of living. Given the strong negative link between religiosity and educational performance, governments might be able to raise educational standards and so standards of living by keeping religion out of schools and out of educational policy-making.”

Professor Stoet and the Curators’ Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences at the University of Missouri, David Geary, analysed data from international surveys on education and human development. From this they made conclusions about levels of religiosity, schooling and educational performance, and levels of human development, specifically in regard to health, education, and income.

Professor Stoet said that their findings, published in the academic journal Intelligence, “support the idea of a ‘displacement hypothesis’ that when children spent more of their time on religion, they will spend less time on other things”.

Out of the 76 countries analysed, the five least religious countries were the Czech Republic, Japan, Estonia, Sweden, and Norway. The five most religious countries were Qatar, Indonesia, Egypt, Jordan, and Tunisia. The UK ranked 13th.

Professor Stoet acknowledged that further study is necessary, but added: “My advice for policy makers is to keep education and religion separate and take a secular approach to education and educational policy.”

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