EFTRE board starts planning conference 2022

We are staying hopeful! That was the message from the EFTRE board meeting on 21st November 2020. Even though the delegates had to gather on Zoom instead of the Mediterranean city of Valencia (Spain), the humour was good and everyone agreed: We want to plan the next conference scheduled for 2022 as a face-to-face meeting. Naturally, the dynamic evolution of the pandemic is being monitored and the programme developed in such a way that it is transformable to a digital setting.

In a lively discussion, participants collected ideas for the different parts of the conference: keynote speakers, workshops, city visits and social gatherings. In relation to the last two points the location of the conference itself has so much to offer because it is Rome! With its rich history, monuments and art collections and not least due to its significance for the Catholic tradition and beyond, Rome offers an inspiring setting for the conference. EFTRE Conferences always take full advantage of their locations with lots of opportunities for first hand learning experiences in the host city. This approach is also reflected in the search for an appropriate conference theme and there were reflections on the current provisional title, “Living Religion” – the EFTRE Executive will develop these ideas in the coming weeks and months.

Apart from the major discussion about the conference, delegates adopted several proposals from the Executive concerning the arrangements of finances, the development of a new website and more efficient systems of membership management.

Letter from the Chair of EFTRE

Dear Members and Friends of EFTRE,

As I sit here at my desk at home in London, I am aware that it is almost exactly a year since our most recent EFTRE Conference. Our Irish hosts promised us ‘Céad Mile Fáilte’ (A Hundred, Thousand Welcomes’) and we were not disappointed! The event offered the usual EFTRE ‘mix’ of thought provoking key note lectures, inspiring workshop activities and fascinating study visits as well as wonderful social events where we could meet old friends and make many new ones. All the evaluations – both formal and informal – show that delegates very much appreciated the wealth of opportunities to enhance their professional development within a warm and mutually supportive environment. Once again, our heartfelt thanks go to Sandra Cullen (EFTRE Representative for the Republic of Ireland) and all her colleagues at Dublin City University who arranged everything so beautifully for us with the support of the members of the EFTRE Executive and also to Norman Richardson (EFTRE Representative for Northern Ireland) who organised a much appreciated supplementary programme across the border and based in Belfast.

At the end of November, members of the EFTRE Executive gathered in Copenhagen. After meeting with some representatives of the main RE teachers’ associations in Denmark, they began to review the last Conference and to plan the next one. This is to be held in Rome in August 2022 and so we were joined in Denmark by Orazio Ruscica (EFTRE Representative for Italy). We agreed that the programme would have a similar balance and shape to those that have preceded it, discussed some possible themes and also explored some other activities for EFTRE. We were ready to develop some exciting new ideas and returned home refreshed, energised and full of plans for the future.

But of course, we – like so many other organisations and individuals around the world – have been deeply affected by the coronavirus pandemic. These last few months have been some of the most challenging many of us have faced, both professionally and personally. Huge sacrifices have had to be made, significant limitations have been placed upon us and we have been forced to adapt to a whole range of unexpected and very demanding circumstances. Wherever we live and work in Europe, 2019-20 was an academic year like no other and all of us have been obliged to discover new ways of teaching RE.

EFTRE too has been affected by this unprecedented crisis – the first casualty was our planned Board Meeting in Valencia in March, arranged by Jose Garcia (EFTRE Representative for Spain) and his colleague and great friend of EFTRE, Carmen Montaner. As the situation in Spain developed and travel restrictions came into being, we were forced with much regret to cancel our gathering there and instead, members of the Executive met online. We used this opportunity to discuss EFTRE’s financial arrangements and reflected on how to manage membership more effectively, as well as the creation and design of a new, more interactive website for EFTRE and some possible exchange projects between members.

In the weeks and months since then, we have all been dealing with other priorities, but our EFTRE links are still there – members of the Executive have kept in close touch with one another throughout this time, offering help, advice and support via our WhatsApp Group and sharing ideas and experiences. We now need to renew our focus and consider the most practical ways in which we can continue our work together.

This last year has seen Europe – and indeed the whole world – struggle to address not only all the changes imposed on us by the pandemic, but also other key issues which we will have to address within the context of teaching and learning in RE. We have seen increased concern about the effects of climate change and witnessed the rise of populism and become increasingly aware of discrimination against certain groups within our societies; we need to wrestle with the implications of these factors in relation to what we teach and how we teach it. For EFTRE, this means we will want to consider very carefully how to approach our future projects and there is obviously a need for us to select a very clear, current and relevant theme for our next Conference.

We do have a Board Meeting in Valencia re-scheduled for this autumn on 21st November but it is unlikely that it will go ahead while movement around Europe is so difficult and arrangements are so uncertain. If necessary, this could of course proceed on that date via an online platform, where the main task would be to develop our programme for the Conference in 2022. We must look forward with hope and optimism! We will keep you informed!

In the meantime, I know that some of you have already begun the new academic year while for others the holiday period has only recently come to an end. Here in England, I returned to work this week and our schools should be re-opened fully too although so many people still have concerns about the safety of pupils, staff and the wider community. But whatever difficulties you are facing in your own country and situation, I send you all good wishes from EFTRE for a happy, healthy and successful year and look forward to hearing from you about how you are managing! Do stay in touch with us and thank you for your interest in EFTRE!

Best wishes,

Lesley Prior, Chair of EFTRE

New date EFTRE board meeting

Covid-19 unsettled almost all our calendars. That doesn’t exclude EFTRE! The board meeting, originally planned for the end of March had to be postponed. Now, a new date has been found. It will take place on 20th and 21st November 2020. Save the date! The place will stay the same. So EFTRE is looking forward to finally visiting the colleagues from Valencia, Spain!

Corona, website and membership: the EFTRE executive’s topics

Due to the Corona crisis, EFTRE’s board meeting originally planned on 27-28th March 2020 in Valencia, Spain, had to be postponed to the second half of the year. Instead, the executive board only met via video conference.

The group exchanged about how EFTRE can put European solidarity first in times of Corona and support members in current challenges such as distance learning. A first collection of links has been put on the website which will be further updated. RE teachers can find useful materials and tools for distant learning offered in various European countries.

Furthermore, the executive took forward the renewal of the network’s website and an improvement of the membership management.

Corona virus and RE distance learning

We have gathered here some useful links for teachers.

BBC

Learn & revise: Religious Studies

Bru-uno.de

On this special page of bru-uno.de, at present constantly updated, possibilities are compiled how (vocational school) religious education can be successful in times of Corona.

Comenius institute

New platform by “rpi-virtuell”, the virtual RE institute that is part of the Comenius institute, with tasks and work sheets for students that can be sorted by grades or topics of interest.

Church of Wurttemberg

Offer by the regional Church of Wurttemberg with links for RE lessons but also tips what do to with smaller kids at home, information about pastoral care and Church services online.

European Commission

Coronavirus: online learning resources

NATRE

FREE resources for you and your pupils

Religions-pädagogisches Zentrum Heilsbronn

Materials for Religious Education structured by topics.

Teach:RE

Religion and Worldviews: Subject knowledge for teaching

New Executive and Board elected

During the conference in Dublin the EFTRE General Assembly took place as well. One important point was the appointment of the Executive and the Board of EFTRE.

In regard to the Executive, two new members were elected: Marios Kokounaras Liagkis from Greece and Bianca Kappelhoff from Germany. Former Executive member Florin Tomoioaga has stepped down but continues as the Board Member for Rumania. Thus, the members of the Executive for the next three years are: Lesley Prior, England (Chair), Elisabeth Faber, Denmark (Secretary), Hugo Verkest, Belgium (Treasurer), Sonja Danner, Austria, Outi Raunio, Finland (Communications Officer), Marios Kokounaras Liagkis, Greece and Bianca Kappelhoff, Germany. As the next Conference in 2022 will take place in Rome, Italian board member Orazio Ruscica or his representative, will be co-opted onto the Executive as well.

As for the Board, almost all country representatives agreed to continue in their roles. As Bianca Kappelhoff has now joined the Executive, she is also the German representative on the board. Furthermore, Eliana Hadjioannou joined the board as Cyprus’ representative.

Please note: You find a full list and description of the board members and the executive members on the EFTRE website.

Written by Bianca Kappelhoff

Reconciling realities in Northern Ireland (EFTRE conference extension programme)

Twenty years after the signing of the Good Friday agreement, Northern Ireland was an ideal place to further explore the subject of the conference “Reconciling Realities”. Sixteen participants explored the city of Belfast and the surrounding countryside under the competent leadership of Norman Richardson, EFTRE board member for Northern Ireland. An additional study day offered everyone the chance to engage in dialogue with educators and researchers from Northern Ireland.

For the two hours ride from Dublin to Belfast, Norman challenged all participants to see if they could spot the Irish border. Indeed, there was only one road sign indicating speed limits in Northern Ireland. But the most obvious sign for everyone on the bus was the rainbow that emerged in the cloudy sky right at that moment. What a wonderful start to the trip!

The following day began with a tour through the city of Belfast. The group learned about the history and current situation of the city. Often, one could tell from the flags in the streets whether it was a Loyalist (Protestant) or Nationalist (Catholic) neighbourhood. Stops at several mural paintings reflected very well the past marked by the Troubles. The story of a conflict between two neighbouring schools showed how the animosity affected education. Particularly impressive was the visit to one of the most well known parts of the Peace Wall. Originally constructed as a temporary barrier, it now towers up to eight metres high in the sky keeping the division of the city quite concrete.

The trip further north out of the city offered all kinds of dreamy landscapes with the green meadows, sheep and cattle that one would imagine in Northern Ireland. High above the cliffs at the seaside lie the buildings of Corrymeela. This Peace and Reconciliation Centre has largely contributed to reconciling realities in Northern Ireland over the last fifty years. With thousands of volunteers the community offers programmes for (school) groups, families and individuals and brings all kind of people together. The programme manager Sean Pettis presented one of their programmes entitled “legacies of conflict” during the symposium the following day.

The symposium offered the chance to reflect on the experiences of the previous days. Presentations about the historical background of Northern Ireland and the educational systems and correlated challenges helped to understand the current implications, also in view of a possible (hard) Brexit. A panel and discussion rounded off the very insightful and valuable extension programme. The numerous personal stories that Norman shared with the group made this trip even more special to everyone who participated. The group thanked Norman Richardson warmly and gratefully for the excellent organisation of the trip.

Please note: You find more information on the extension programme and the conference itself on the EFTRE website.

Written by Bianca Kappelhoff

EFTRE Conference 2019: the story of Reconciling Realities in Religious Education

During the last days of August, the EFTRE family came together in Dublin, Ireland, to hold its triannual conference. Old friends, brothers and sisters reunited in joy and welcomed new members into their midst. And while the last Irish summer days were still warm and sunny, the EFTRE family began to wonder whether soon enough it would have to gather around a cosy fire place – because the first keynote speaker Dr Anne Looney asked: ‘Is winter coming for RE? “

With this compelling allegory linked to the bestselling novels and mega hit TV series “Game of Thrones” Anne Looney set the tone for the following days: innovative reflections about RE in Europe combined with humour, vivid illustrative examples and opportunities for deep thinking. Around 60 delegates from 22 countries had come together to think about “Reconciling Realities in Religious Education”. It turned out that the island of Ireland was the perfect setting for this mission.

Speakers from the island – North and South – examined the topic from various angles on the first day. Philip McKinley, the Dublin City University (DCU) chaplain, took the audience on a journey of “island hopping” exploring the special characteristics of islands and of divided ones in particular. Padraig Ó Tuama, theologian, poet and member of the Corrymeela community in Northern Ireland, drew attention to the fact how much words and storytelling affect our perception of realities and what needs to be done in those terms to reconcile realities especially regarding Northern Ireland. Anne Looney, Executive Dean of the Institute of Education of the DCU positioned Religious Education in relation to the emerging field of Education future studies – an approach that might help reconcile realities in RE with current social changes and challenges. She concluded that winter may actually not be coming just yet!

The programme for the following two and a half days was characterised by a well-balanced mix of further keynotes, practical workshops, visits in the city of Dublin and opportunities for socialising. The workshops covered a wide range of approaches from how to use technology in RE to addressing controversial issues, using drama techniques or the use of sacred texts in the RE classroom. The contributions from 12 nations to these workshops demonstrated in a very inspiring way the richness of RE across Europe.

Another highlight of the programme was the conference dinner, which took place in the Music Room of Christchurch Cathedral. Archbishop Michael Jackson of the Church of Ireland warmly welcomed all participants at this very special place and spent the evening with the group. EFTRE was also delighted to welcome the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Ireland Diarmuid Martin to the keynote address given by Muslim educator Dr Abdullah Trevathan.

The conference ended with huge applause for the organising team particularly Sandra Cullen, Ireland’s representative on the EFTRE Board and the wonderful staff in Dublin City University, and the Chair of EFTRE, Lesley Prior. Thanks to the warm and welcoming atmosphere, the participants are already looking forward to the next EFTRE family gathering in Rome in 2022! The invitation from the Italian representatives was welcomed with enthusiasm!

Please note: If you want to know more about the conference, please visit the EFTRE website. There, you will find reports, pictures as well as presentations and materials from all keynotes and workshops available shortly.

Written by Bianca Kappelhoff