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Murder sparks religious school restrictions

Netherlandsbaghda

Holland's centre-right government is setting restrictions on the running of Islamic schools after the murder of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh by a Muslim last month.

A proposed law will insist that all new schools have a board consisting entirely of Dutch nationals and must formulate a plan to integrate pupils with Dutch society. Most controversially, it will also restrict the numbers of socially-disadvantaged pupils per school to 80 per cent of the total.

"This will be impossible to do," said Rasit Bal, head of the Islamic Schools Board Organisation (ISBO)of the Netherlands. Normally an application is lodged two years before a new school opens.

"You cannot know what kind of children you will get. They come from all over the city," said Mr Bal.

The Dutch government says it wants to promote integration by restricting minority schools.

But Mr Bal said the legislation was not based on educational or pedagogical research. "It is a political rule which will not help the problems the government says it wants to resolve."

Geert Driessen, an expert on Islamic schools at the University of Nijmegen, said more than 96 per cent of children at such schools are disadvantaged, and less than 2 per cent of parents were born in the Netherlands.

"Islamic schools allow parents, who may be on the fringes of Dutch society, to become more involved in their children's education," Dr Driessen said.

He believes restricting such schools would merely force pupils into city sink schools which could increase disharmony rather than the integration the government desires.

Pupils at Muslim and other minority schools are also more likely to have additional Dutch language instruction at a time when subsidies for teaching Dutch as second language have been reduced in mainstream schools, Dr Driessen said.

Holland has some 40 Islamic primaries and two secondaries. Some 7 per cent of primary-age pupils attend such schools, 40 per cent of them Moroccan and 37 per cent of them Turkish.

Dr Driessen's study published this year found that 70 per cent of Muslim parents would prefer their children to attend such schools, translating into a demand for another 120 Islamic schools. The ISBO plans to open new schools at the rate of two to three a year. But these plans are now in jeopardy.

"We have the freedom under the constitution to open our schools, but the government wants to make it more difficult," Rasit Bal said.

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