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Academic in Christian theology backs plans to teach philosophy in primary schools

by Desmond Busteed

It's after research with 3,000 children aged 9 and 10 years old noted improvements in their maths and literacy skills when they participated in sessions aimed to encourage questioning, reasoning and argument formation.

The trial, known as the Philosophy for Children programme (P4C), seemed to particularly highlight a positive impact on the work of disadvantaged students. The study was commissioned by the charity Education Endowment Foundation (EEF).

Pupils explored moral and intellectual issues with their peers, after watching a video clip to stimulate ideas. They would then have a moment of silent thinking, before taking part in smaller and then larger group discussions.

Dr Jonathan Hill, a lecturer in Philosophy of Religion at the University of Exeter, says philosophy is a vital, everyday life-skill: "Every time you make a moral decision, you know, 'Should I do this? Should I do that?', you're kind of doing philosophy.

"Every time you wonder about whether something is true, whether what somebody has told you is true, what the evidence is for a claim, why you think something is true... That's philosophy.

Although the subject has ancient roots in history, Dr Hill argues the relevance to contemporary life is clear, as "we're bombarded with claims by advertisers, by politicians, by religious leaders, by books, by celebrities, stuff in the news...

"We have different voices on all of these things, telling us stuff from different directions, and you've got to make up your own mind and work out what you think is right and why. So the earlier people learn to do that, the earlier they're going to be equipped to deal with modern life."

Teachers reportedly also noticed an improvement to pupils' confidence, patience and self-esteem after taking part in the sessions.

But Dr Hill argues the benefits may go beyond the individual. We live, he claims, in a world of multiple viewpoints "all competing for attention":

"Philosophy isn't just about questioning what you're told; it's also about understanding people who have a different opinion to you and why they think that.

"It really encourages intellectual empathy, understanding others; and I think that's something that's desperately needed today."

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