Education Quandary

What is the best way of preventing independent Islamic schools fostering separatism and hatred?
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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

In this country there are five state-funded Muslim schools, about 100 independent Islamic schools and nearly 1,000 madrassas, where children go after school to learn the Koran. There is no reason why any of these should not exist. We have Jewish and Christian schools; it is right there should be Islamic schools.

However, no school has the right to indoctrinate children with values that endanger our shared society, and if that is happening something needs to be done.

"If", because the evidence is limited and contradictory, and no one should conduct a serious debate like this on mere prejudice.

David Bell, the chief schools' inspector, has warned that Islamic schools must to do more to promote social cohesion, and some Muslim leaders are worried about the more hard-line schools. But inspectors of faith schools have said that Bell's views are personal, and that in the course of their inspections they have found no problem. In addition, there is no clear link between Islamic schools in this country and terrorism - in fact some Muslim academics believe a proper Islamic education actively discourages terrorism.

The Government plans to bring more independent Muslim schools into the mainstream system; state funds, it believes, will drag with them the light and air of national educational norms. But schools interested in taking this step are probably not the ones we should worry about. More importantly, Muslim parents need to start scrutinising what messages are being given out in their schools and mosques.

Readers' advice

All state education should be secular and inclusive as a matter of principle, so the Government should certainly not be funding Islamic or any other separatist schools. Yes, that would mean getting rid of all state-funded faith schools on grounds of equity - and about time. As for independent religious schools, Muslim or other, they should be properly regulated, and closed down if they cannot meet reasonable standards and educate their pupils properly for life in a diverse society.
Peter Mason, Surrey

I am a student who goes to a non-Islamic school. I see the Muslims there losing their way and following non-believers. I would rather go to an Islamic school, but if this is not possible, I believe that schools where there are Muslim pupils should give more respect to our religion by setting aside a room where we can pray, and giving girls no problems over wearing hijab.
Nolma Azhar, Bedfordshire

Many primary school pupils in my part of Birmingham go to mosque school for two hours every evening, where they learn the Koran. Parents say they want their children to keep their culture and religion, and not fall into Western ways, which they see as drunkenness and loose morals. I do not think they are being taught to be militants, but as a teacher I can see that they are getting a different upbringing from other British children, which is bound to make them feel separate.
Mary Bestell, Birmingham

Next week's quandary

We have had a newsletter from our parents' association containing an article about the benefits of fish oils, and urging us to use them. My children have a good diet, so I thought they did not need pills. Am I being blinkered? Should parents feed children supplements to boost their IQ?

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce at The Independent, Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020 7005 2143; or e-mail to h.wilce@btinternet.com. Include your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack with cartridge pen and handwriting pen

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