Muslim schools make a positive contribution
Press release issued: 16 March 2007
Muslim schools could be a positive addition to the educational system and an effective way of integrating religious minorities into British citizenship concludes a study by Bristol University.
Muslims in Britain are currently subject to a great deal of attention that has often focused upon questions of citizenship and integration. One key issue has concerned the position of the Muslim schools, which are often seen as an obstacle to social cohesion.
The study, Muslim schools in Britain: challenging mobilisations or logical development? by Nasar Meer, Research Assistant in the Department of Sociology and the Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship at Bristol University, reveals why some Muslim parents are seeking Muslims schools and where this fits within the broader history of schooling in Britain.
Muslim children of school age are disproportionately present in the British education system and comprise nearly 6 per cent (500,000) of the school population from the entire Muslim population of 3 per cent (1.8 million). There are, however, only seven state funded Muslim schools compared to over 4,700 Church of England schools, 2,100 Catholic schools, 37 Jewish and 28 Methodist schools.
The study has found there are a number of reasons why parents want more Muslim schools. These include:
- Muslims parents want to see more aspects of Islamic culture embedded within the teaching and ethos of school curricula normally within a Christian-European tradition.
- The desire to incorporate more faith-based principles into an integrated education system, so that the "whole person" can be educated in a more holistic Islamic environment.
- Some Muslim parents seek "safe" environments for post-pubescent children. Single-sex schools appeal to Muslim parents in the way they have to Catholic parents (this is not a policy desired for primary schooling).
- Muslim parents and broader communities would like schools to offer some specialist training in the Islamic religious sciences. This is motivated by the desire to have more British-trained theologians who can discuss theological issues with a contemporary significance to the lived experiences of life in Britain.
- There is a concern over the lower educational attainment of some Muslim boys and the belief that greater accommodation of religious and cultural difference will help resolve this low achievement. The academic achievement record of the seven state funded schools, for example, is exceptionally high.
The curriculum of each Muslim school is monitored through inspections by the Organisation for Standards in Educations (OfSTED). By drawing upon Islamic principles, and contrary to some recent news stories, the curricula of Muslim schools proactively agree universal dignity and worth irrespective of ethnic, religious, or racial difference.
Muslims educators argue that one of the most effective ways to pass on knowledge about different people is through academic teaching rather than a laissez-faire approach which assumes that mere exposure and contact with "difference" will resolve prejudices.
Nasar Meer said: "If Muslim constituencies are granted the provisions for Muslim schools, it could contribute to the bringing together of faith commitments and citizenship requirements within a public area that has historically included and incorporated other religious minorities before it.
"Contrary to the current movements seeking a 'retreat' from multiculturalism, more multicultural accommodations of this kind will be beneficial."
Further informationMuslim schools in Britain: challenging mobilisations or logical development? by Nasar Meer, Research Assistant in the Department of Sociology and the Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship at Bristol University will be published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Education, Vol 27, No 1, March 2007.
A copy of the full paper can be downloaded.