Why faith is a cornerstone of effective EDI work

Tensions between sets of beliefs can arise, but faith is still the best through which to see our way to solutions

Tensions between sets of beliefs can arise, but faith is still the best through which to see our way to solutions

1 Apr 2024, 5:00

As a Chaplaincy coordinator in the FE space, I often stress that faith has a much broader base than religious belief. It is about deeply held values and convictions that guide us all in our personal and professional lives rather than about specific religions.

I have been working with staff and students at London South East Colleges for over ten years now, helping them embrace faith-based perspectives. I believe this is essential when it comes to creating an inclusive and supporting learning environment for all. It also provides a counterbalance to what can be a challenging level of discourse in the 24-hour news cycle and digital space.

Tensions between faith and EDI (Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) may arise due to conflicting beliefs on gender roles, LGBTQ+ rights, and religious freedoms. For instance, accommodating religious attire may conflict with dress codes promoting gender equality. 

Muslim students may need extra time to pray, and timetables can sometimes make this challenging. Balancing these concerns requires tact, grace and respectful dialogue, while fostering an inclusive environment for all beliefs.

But despite these perhaps inevitable tensions, faith can serve as a cornerstone for fostering EDI within educational institutions. Research has shown that students who feel a sense of belonging and connection to their school or college community are more likely to thrive academically and socially.

A study by the University of Cambridge found that schools that actively promote an inclusive ethos based on shared values and beliefs, including faith-based values, have higher levels of student engagement and achievement. 

Embracing faith cultivates empathy, tolerance and respect

Furthermore, embracing faith in education cultivates empathy, tolerance and respect for diverse perspectives. In a multicultural society like ours, where students come from various cultural, religious, and socio-economic backgrounds, incorporating faith-based principles into the curriculum helps students develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of different belief systems. This in turn fosters a rich culture of mutual respect and understanding.

As staff working at the coalface in FE, I believe that there are several ways we can implement effective changes that promote faith-based inclusion in education. Here are a few things that you can do:

Promote dialogue

Encourage open and respectful discussions about faith and belief systems in the classroom. Create a safe space where students feel comfortable sharing their perspectives and experiences.   For example, initiate small group discussions where students are prompted to share how their beliefs influence their decision-making process. This can helps students recognise the commonalities between faiths.

Integrate faith-based values

Incorporate compassion, integrity and social justice into teaching practices and policies. These values provide a framework for ethical decision-making and moral development among students. For instance, we can draw parallels between religious teachings on compassion and the importance of advocating for marginalised communities. This enhances students’ understanding of the subject matter, while reinforcing the relevance of faith-based values in addressing contemporary challenges.

Celebrate diversity

Organise events that celebrate cultural and religious diversity. For example, hosting an interfaith panel discussion where representatives from different religious backgrounds share how their faith informs their approach to social justice issues, can be incredibly enlightening for staff and students.

Provide support

Offer pastoral care and support services that cater to the spiritual and emotional needs of students from diverse faith backgrounds. Ensure that students have access to resources and guidance that align with their beliefs and values.

To effectively implement these ideas, it’s important to actively listen to staff and students as well as evaluating the effectiveness of any initiative. As is the case with wellbeing, you need to take care of your own wellbeing if you are to support other people with theirs. This is the same with faith; we must nourish our own faith if we are to grow as individuals and as an organisation.

I believe that faith, in all its forms, can help keep us balanced and centred in our role to inspire others, especially if we embrace faith-based values including Compassion, Integrity, Empathy, Mindfulness, Community Service and Interfaith Dialogue.

By incorporating these practices into our daily delivery, we can create a nurturing, inclusive environment where every student matters feels valued, respected, and empowered to succeed.

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One comment

  1. Dave Spart

    If the term ‘cornerstone’ is being used in its usual sense of a necessary foundation, this is straightforwardly untrue, and if we are being asked to infer that “compassion, integrity and social justice” are necessarily faith-based values, that is equally so.