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Open door wider to ethnic diversity

Better religious education is required to eradicate prejudice

SOME SCOTTISH schools are truly multicultural, while others have little or no understanding of what it means to be Muslim, according to Muslim youngsters.

There are some schools that embrace different religions and cultures, they celebrate a range of festivals such as Eid and Diwali, as well as Easter and Hallowe'en, and take into account the needs of ethnic minority pupils - in the case of Muslim pupils, by providing space to pray or being sensitive to problems that might arise. But, equally, there are schools that have struggled to adapt to ethnic diversity.

These were among the messages that emerged from a conference for young Scottish Muslims in Glasgow on Monday.

The existence of an ethos of tolerance and understanding in a school is apparent as soon as people walk through the door, according to Yasmeen Sheikh, 20, who is studying to become a primary teacher and attended the conference. "You can tell from the posters on the walls and the attitude of the staff," the Edinburgh student said.

Ken Cunningham, headteacher at Hillhead High in Glasgow, where more than 30 per cent of pupils come from ethnic minorities, agrees some Muslim youngsters are fortunate and find that the school on their doorstep is truly international, while others are not. "There is a degree of serendipity," he acknowledged. "Schools are becoming more inclusive, but I think we've still a way to go."

Expanding religious education, both in the form of staff training and broader RE classes for pupils, was seen as a step in the right direction.

Tahir Bhatti, 21, said: "I think we should expand on religious studies, not just looking at Islam but across the board. Racism occurs because of a lack of understanding about other religions."

The key areas for improvement, identified by young Muslims, included more detailed religious education to eradicate ignorance, and more recognition of religious issues in the curriculum, such as the difficulty of mixed PE classes for Muslim girls. They also called for a debate about Muslim schools.

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