Forget Henry, here comes Mahatma

3rd February 2006 at 00:00
The Arab-Israeli conflict and India's struggle for independence will be studied by pupils as the curriculum watchdog attempts to make history.

Two national curriculum units for 11 to 14-year-olds are being produced by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority following its warning that school history concentrates too much on "Hitler and Henry".

The courses were announced this week as Muslim academics called for lessons to reflect the backgrounds of all pupils to prevent teenage alienation.

A QCA spokesman said the Indian unit would allow the study of figures such as Mahatma Gandhi and events such as partition and the creation of Pakistan.

The Middle East unit would look at the 20th century and help pupils to understand the background to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. "These are crucially important historical subjects which are not as well understood by British schoolchildren as they perhaps should be," he said.

The Association of Muslim Researchers welcomed the move. It said that a "strong sense of alienation and disenchantment" among Muslim youth over British foreign policy is compounded by the irrelevance of history lessons to the realities of Britain today.

Mohammad Tabarra, the association's vice-president, has organised a conference to discuss the issue in London tomorrow. He wants history teaching to help pupils from immigrant communities to understand and discuss the historical events that brought their families to Britain.

"These are British kids with different cultural backgrounds," he said.

"There are links but they need to be studied so that they understand why they are part of British society.

"If these things are left as they are then it will lead to ignorance and cause trouble."

Tariq Wilkinson, head of history at Brondesbury college for boys, an independent Islamic school in Brent, London is expected to tell the conference that the national curriculum already contains Muslim history. He points to modules for 11 to 14-year-olds on Islamic achievements between 600 and 1600 and on the Mughal empire in India and an Edexcel GCSE module on the quest for peace in the Middle East between 1948-95.

The problem was a lack of staff with the experience and knowledge to teach them and a gap in the curriculum at the crucial 7 to 11-year-old stage when pupils attitudes were forming, he said.

Last year Sean Lang, director of the Historical Association's curriculum project, warned that dull history lessons could be contributing to the anger and alienation that led British-educated men to carry bombs to London last July.

The new curriculum units are being consulted on with community and religious groups before publication.

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