Muslim Education: A Long, Long Lesson

March 26, 2009

Author: Staff Writer

Source: The Economist

Like every good school, Palfrey Junior urges its 360 pupils to spend time on extra-curricular things such as crafts, hobbies and special computer lessons. But here they have to happen before school starts; time after class is spoken for. When the bell goes in mid-afternoon, most pupils head straight to a madrassa to learn the Koran.

Palfrey Junior is a state school, with no religious affiliation. But the fact that 98% of its pupils are Muslim affects the ethos. A legal requirement for “mainly Christian” worship is met with generic “songs to God”. Swimming is segregated by sex; at the request of Muslim parents, there is no sex education and all food is halal. During Ramadan, pupils who fast are kept indoors in case they become dehydrated.

The conservatism of many Muslims in Britain’s Midlands also influences the tone. Some parents withdraw children from aerobics because they eschew music. Some women teachers wear a niqab, concealing their face, in the street; in school, only their hair is covered with a scarf.

Bob Poyser, Palfrey’s (non-Muslim) head teacher, finds the children “very spiritual”, with a deep belief in God. They like the Greek church next door, where the priest tells them of figures familiar to Muslims, such as Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the Archangel Gabriel. But though they study the same subjects as other state-educated pupils—Beowulf and the Tudors adorn the walls—these children spend a lot of time in a Muslim cocoon. They are drilled intensively in their faith outside school; what goes on inside school reflects both state policy and local social reality.