Yet around the world there are many others who see that now, more than ever, is a time to engage our young people with issues of faith, belief and values in an educational environment. Among them is former prime minister Tony Blair, who is now patron and founder of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.
This worldwide inter-faith organisation runs a schools programme called Face to Faith. The programme facilitates inter-faith dialogue through video-conferencing and online collaboration with the aim of providing young people with the knowledge and skills needed for meaningful inter- and intra-faith dialogue across a range of cultures.
For this reason, last year I contacted the Blair foundation to ask if, using my influence as an educator, I could help to create an opportunity for schools to learn more about the Face to Faith project. The end result was that, last month, teachers from eight schools participated in a one-day training event on the project at Stranmillis University College in Belfast.
During the session, the teachers had the rare opportunity to chat with Tony Blair during a video conference. He told the teachers: "Young people have an enormous appetite to learn about others who are different from them" and he emphasised the positive value of enabling pupils to discuss faith issues and beliefs. Jo Malone, Face to Faith international co-ordinator at the foundation, introduced teachers to the basics of video-conferencing as well as the learning materials and cooperative learning techniques at the heart of the programme.
There were also international contributions from experienced inter-faith facilitators in India and Lebanon who stressed the benefits of Face to Faith, not only for encouraging dialogue and empathy between young people, but helping them to connect with their own faith traditions. It was particularly positive that the launch of Face to Faith in Northern Ireland involved schools from across the range of management-types (Controlled, Maintained and Integrated) and it is hoped that the programme spawns local as well as international collaboration.
I left with the strong impression that a culture of sharing is emerging as an integral aspect of our education system. In both cases I look forward to seeing what the future brings.