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Text: Islamic schools at heart of British debate on integration

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Teil A: Text
Islamic schools at heart of British debate on integration

The sports hall doubles as a prayer room and dining hall for male teenagers, at other times for young women, but never the two together. In the kindergarten, female teachers, warned of an impending visit by a man, draw full facial veils before receiving their guest. When the guest arrives, the children offer a chorus in Arabic: “As salaam aleikum” – peace be upon you.

“Here we can keep ourselves on the path of religion,” said Nasir Nathalia, 15, a student at the Leicester Islamic Academy. His friend Mohammed Seedat agreed. “There is less chance here of going off the track,” he said.

This is the piety that Britain’s expanding Islamic schools seek to project, casting themselves as typical of the thousands of faith schools, mainly Christian, that make up roughly one-third of all publicly financed British schools. But the visible differences – the way female teenagers wear the full-length dress and head-covering and the boys wear black robes and skullcaps – play into a ferocious debate about the sense of separateness or readiness to inte-grate Britain’s estimated 1.8 million Muslims, about 3 percent of the population.

And the discussion touches on a much wider theme of ethnic segrega-tion across the British state-financed educational system. “Segregation is now so extreme in some schools that there is not much further it can go,” Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, told a parlia-mentary panel. “It doesn’t help to prepare children in these schools for the real world.”

Neither, some believe, does it bridge the gap between a largely secular society and a profound commitment to a single faith. “If you are going to have Islamic schools, the question is whether they are going to embrace Western values,” said Patrick Sookhdeo, a Pakistan-born Anglican priest […]. “I would argue that Islamic values are not compatible with Western values.”

Others disagree just as boldly. “If you think faith schools are divisive, it would help a great deal to know why: Is there empirical evidence?” said Mohamed Mukadam, the principal of the Leicester Islamic Academy. Students from Islamic schools, Mukadam said in an interview, were not associated with either the religious and racial riots in northern England in the early 2000s or in any of the recent terrorism conspiracies. […]

It is a debate shot through with fear and resentment after terrorist attacks by Muslims and alleged plots in London, leaving the British government to ponder how it can properly deny state financing to Islamic schools that teach the core subjects of the national curriculum when it provides money for much more numerous schools of Christian, Jewish or other faiths. Only 7 Islamic schools receive public financing, compared with 36 Jewish schools and about 7,000 Christian schools.

The parents of just 3 percent of Muslim students enrol them in Islamic schools, where the education is generally rigorous and there is a code to nurture their Islamic identity, shield them from discrimination and provide moral guidance. The bulk of the 140 Islamic schools charge tuition. At Leicester, for instance, tuition is $2,700 a year.

“Muslim children in this country tend to live separate lives anyhow,” said Mark Halstead, a professor of education at the University of Huddersfield in northern England. “Whether they go to Muslim school does not make much difference to their segregation. They are concentrated in the inner cities. They could be attending a state school that is 90 percent Muslim anyway.”

A report by Simon Burgess, a professor of economics, discovered that, for instance, in the blue-collar Tower Hamlets district of East London, where ethnic minorities form 48 percent of the population, nearly half the schools were “exclusively nonwhite.”

The issue of Islamic identity is magnified by a recent debate about a full-face veil that shows only the eyes and is known as the niqab. Some non-Muslims, most notably Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, have said the veil illustrates that Muslims are rejecting British norms; others say simply that Britons are discriminating against Muslims. […]

The debate cuts to the heart of Britain’s stated philosophy on multi-culturalism, defined 40 years ago by the Labour politician Roy Jenkins when he was home secretary. In laying out a new immigration policy, he said immi-gration should not lead to a “flattening process of assimilation” but instead should provide “equal opportunity accompanied by cultural diversity.” But now, as the country is struggling so publicly with Muslim assimilation, some analysts like Phillips of the Commission for Racial Equality fear that a premium on cultural identity has Britain “sleepwalking into segregation.”

On another level, the debate over Islamic schools here also involves equity in the use of tax money. According to the Department of Education in London, private schools must meet laborious and detailed criteria to gain access to state financing, and many Islamic schools have failed to do so. Since 1997, according to government figures, only 25 “minority faith” schools have qualified for government financing – 15 of them Jewish and the rest Muslim, Sikh, Greek Orthodox and Seventh-Day Adventist schools.

While Christian schools say 25 percent of their seats are open to non-Christians, Mukadam said there were so few Islamic schools that it would be impractical to offer admission to non-Muslims.
872 words

Abridged from:
Alan Cowell, International Herald Tribune, 16 October 2006, p. 3.

Assignments:
Teil A:

Answer in complete English sentences.
1.1 Explain why the debate about Islamic schools “cuts to the heart of Britain’s stated philosophy on multiculturalism.” (ll. 60/61)
1.2 Analyse and assess the way the author presents the subject of minority integration.
COMPOSITION
Choose one of the following topics.
2.1 “Here we can keep ourselves on the path of religion. […] There is less chance here of going off the track.” (ll. 6 - 8)
Should schools provide moral guidance? Discuss.
2.2 “Good fences make good neighbours.”
Comment on this proverb referring to different views presented in the text.

2.3 Evaluate Garth Brooks’ vision of an ideal society and compare it to your personal opinion on the topic.

We Shall Be Free
by Garth Brooks

This ain’t comin’ from no prophet
Just an ordinary man
When I close my eyes I see
The way this world
shall be
When we all walk hand in hand

When the last child cries for a crust of bread
When the last man dies for just words that he said
When there’s shelter over the poorest head
We shall be free

When the last thing we notice is the color of skin And the first thing we look for is the beauty within When the skies and the oceans are clean again Then we shall be free

We shall be free
We shall be free
Stand straight, walk proud
Cause we shall be free
When we're free to love anyone we choose
When this world's big enough for all different views
When we all can worship from our own kind of pew
Then we shall be free
We shall be free

We shall be free
Have a little faith
Hold out ’
Cause we shall be free
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Teil B: Translation
Choice is for minorities too

Strange that a government that wants to make choice the watchword of its social policy should doubt the desirability of ethnic minorities choosing to be different. Stranger still that the minister chosen to express the doubts about social diversity should be a passionate advocate of faith schools, a major divisive influence in the areas where they flourish. The fear must be that the contradictions are less the result of intellectual confusion than a willingness to pander to the prejudices of the people who, according to Ruth Kelly, “do not feel comfortable” with the changes that have transformed their neighbour-hoods. […] Stories abound about the benefits enjoyed by immigrants – a term still often applied to black and Asian British – which are not available to their homegrown neighbours. The only way to deal with that often calculated libel is to meet it head on and dismiss it for the malicious invention it usually is.
(158 words)
Abridged from: The Guardian, Aug. 28, 2006


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