Before we move on to look at the prayer topics for March, I found it interesting that the Evangelical Alliance published the results of their survey on education at the end of February. This online survey was carried out in November 2012 with 1,377 evangelical Christians responding (including me!) The full report can be read on their website. Now you all know how much I love statistics (gentle irony alert). Nonetheless, I found it interesting that:

* 45% of those responding said their churches pray regularly for their local schools
* 69% said that all schools should have regular assemblies with a Christian act of collective worship
* 84% agreed that sex education without a clear moral value framework is harmful
* 96% believed there should be more apprenticeships and high quality vocational courses suitable for less academic students

It’s easy to question the value of surveys, but since 73% of those replying had some significant involvement in education (either as parents, teachers, governors or some other involvement in education), clearly these people are at the sharp end of this discussion! Perhaps the most interesting (to me, anyway!) question in the survey was “What is the point of education?” These are the answers offered:

1) To help everyone to fulfil their potential as a human being (86%)
2) To ensure every person can think for themselves (78%)
3) To help build a healthy society where everyone is cared for and has a chance to contribute to the common good (73%)
4) To ensure all develop as caring people who value and treat people equally and respectfully, regardless of ethnicity, faith, gender, sexuality, ability or wealth (71%)
5) To equip people for a successful working life (59%)
6) To give everyone a rich cultural experience and interest in the world around them (58%)
7) To direct human development toward God’s objective for human beings – godliness of character and action (48%, of whom many were teachers!)
8) To shape a worldview which corresponds to Christian values and biblical understandings (41%, with students significantly lower than the average on this answer)
9) To ensure that the country has a skilled and productive workforce and a prosperous economy (39%) (interestingly, teachers weren’t as interested in this answer as most people!)
10) To help everyone to achieve high academic qualifications (17%, a surprisingly low figure, you may feel!)

Make what you will of these answers, but hopefully they will provoke thought and ongoing prayer for our schools. Some of the quotes included in the report are also worth pondering:
* “The hardest thing about education is the constant criticism that teachers get and then the constant questioning of standards that our pupils are achieving – it is demoralising.”
* “I object to statefunded schools inculcating any children with liberal humanism.” (Whether we realise it or not, this is largely what is happening in our schools – our children and young people need our prayers that they will see beyond the world’s belief systems which are presented as fact and understand that we all have the right to choose what we believe.)
* “I strongly believe in education for life and not just for academic study.”
* “Christian teachers have had a profound impact on my life in primary and secondary education, both as witnesses and in teaching a Christian worldview.”
* “I struggle to have a positive outlook on education. I think too much emphasis is put on academic achievement.”
* “Education has changed, it has become more prescriptive and unrelenting, there is less time to think and reflect.”

The report ends with some interesting conclusions and challenges. As we continue to pray throughout this year, it is worth thinking about and praying for these challenges:
1) The challenge is for Christians to understand and critique the educational practices which, in the name of neutrality, may be influencing children with the ideas of liberal humanism. While affirming the historic value of Christian education in the UK, we need to speak out for a genuinely open public space, where the Christian worldview can be expressed on equal terms with other faith-based and non-faith philosophies.

2) We also need to value teaching as a God-given vocation. This means supporting the teachers and students in our congregations by seeking to understand the pressures they face and praying for them. We should also encourage and support school governors and ensure that they are trained and equipped to work effectively in their vital role.

3) The challenge is to move on from mere grumbling to providing a better vision for schools and other educational institutions. Churches should take opportunities to build relationships and partnerships with local schools, and also to affirm the vision of the Christian schools with which they are linked.

4) The challenge for Christian parents, and for the church leaders advising them, is to prayerfully consider the educational options available to them on the basis that our children are not conformed to the pattern of this world, but are transformed by the renewal of their minds.

5) The challenge for us is to speak up for a fairer education system for all, and to become actively and practically involved in delivering such a system.

The overall conclusion of Steve Clifford (General Director of the Evangelical Alliance) is also worth pondering:
“Christians have both responsibilities and opportunities to be involved in education. Engagement is taking place through the teaching vocation, and developing stronger links between our churches and local schools. Church schools, new faith-based academies and independent Christian schools all have a role to play in this vitally important mission field. There is much about education in the UK to disagree with, but it is essential that we move on from grumbling to providing a clearer vision for Christian engagement. Helping children to grow towards a Christ-like character within a caring community should be a priority for us all.”