21/09/2015 12:25 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

Why We Should Teach Religion In Schools

USA, Washington State, Bellevue, Interlake High School
Jetta Productions via Getty Images
USA, Washington State, Bellevue, Interlake High School

The debate about Australia's role in the current Syrian refugee crisis unleashed a fresh round of comments that display exactly how ignorant many Australians are of Islamic culture and beliefs.

It is widely accepted that extremism in any form is dangerous; but exactly what constitutes extremism within the Islamic faith seems to be misunderstood in modern Australian society. Is Islam inherently sexist? Is the faith irreconcilable with Christianity or Judaism? Is it a backwards religion whose leaders seek to control its believers through fear-mongering? I doubt it. But I myself could benefit from some education in this area.

Many who comment on Islam or the Muslim community in Australia know little about this topic, which does nothing to contribute toward a productive public debate surrounding the real problems that face our community.

Misinformation only contributes to further marginalisation of Muslims, leading to the greater possibility of young Muslim men and women turning to ISIS online and overseas for support and a sense of belonging. The radicalisation of these people is the real issue that is facing our society, but that problem is being hidden by sensationalist comments made by uninformed commentators.

Already hundreds of Australians have left to join ISIS, with at least 15 Australians confirmed dead after fighting for the group in Syria and Iraq.

And this is why we should be teaching religion in all schools in Australia.

I am a great believer in the role of education in solving many of the modern world's ills.

Education breeds understanding, compassion, and most importantly, tolerance. It gives individuals the power to be critical of information and propaganda and to make up their own minds about a topic. A well-educated person will not blindly follow another, no matter how charismatic that leader might be.

If we taught school children about religion -- and not just Christianity but Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and perhaps even Buddhism, we would be more likely to breed a generation of tolerant and compassionate citizens. More importantly, if we taught in schools the difference between mainstream religious beliefs and extremist interpretations, we would have a greater chance of deterring people from a path of radicalisation.

Teaching children about these religions might also bring about an understanding of the core similarities between many of the world's religions, especially with regards to ethics.

But this initiative needs to take place nation-wide, not just in regions where there is a high prevalence of at-risk individuals. The Abbott government has recently proposed to collate educational programs that support youth at risk of radicalisation, and while this is certainly a step in the right direction, it does nothing to ensure other Australians aren't misinformed about Islamic culture and religious beliefs.

Religion is a big part of our society, and ignoring it in schools doesn't diminish that fact. ISIS will continue to flourish in a world where misinformation and fear is propagated, leading to the marginalisation of too many young people. I believe that education can play a big part in helping us to combat the risk of radicalisation, and to fight ISIS's progression.