Islamic schools spark debate in Britain
LONDON: British religious and educational leaders were engaged on Tuesday in debate over the growing trend of Islamic schools, after a chief government inspector warned they failed to prepare pupils for life in a diverse society.
Leaders of Muslim organisations balked at chief English inspector David Bell’s assessment that traditional Islamic education offered by some schools was not suitable for the country’s children.
But several officials at Islamic education bodies acknowledged the potential problem of students’ social isolation and said they were acting to address the problem. Bell, the head of the Office for Standards in Education, or Ofsted, raised concerns about religious-based schools in general, but singled out the growing number of Islamic schools.
“We must not allow our recognition of diversity to become apathy in the face of any challenge to our coherence as a nation,” he said in a speech on Monday. “I worry that many young people are being educated in faith-based schools, with little appreciation of their wider responsibilities and obligations to British society,” he said.
Bell called on Islamic schools to promote “tolerance and harmony”. The inspector’s comments touched off sensitive debate in Britain, which boasts a wide range of secular and religiously-affiliated schools, including more than 100 Muslim schools in England.
The Islamiya Primary School of north London, founded by the former folk singer Cat Stevens, now known as Yusuf Islam, became the first Muslim school in 1995 to win the public funding long awarded to Protestant and Catholic schools. Five of the Islamic schools are now state-run, with the rest independent. afp