Let's focus on our common ground

4th July 2008 at 01:00
I was interested to read the advice from Lynne Sedgmore, former chief executive of the Centre for Excellence in Leadership, that college principals were more concerned about gang warfare than the spreading of extremist religious views among Muslim students (FE Focus, June 20)

I was interested to read the advice from Lynne Sedgmore, former chief executive of the Centre for Excellence in Leadership, that college principals were more concerned about gang warfare than the spreading of extremist religious views among Muslim students (FE Focus, June 20).

The marginalisation of Muslim students is the result of a failure to understand their aspirations and how social cohesion can be served by a balanced curriculum.

As a former principal from an Asian and Muslim background, with a family of a variety of different faiths, I have a personal insight into what is possible in terms of promoting tolerance.

In my family, we go beyond mere tolerance: we have mutual respect for the deeply held beliefs of others - within the family and outside. We consider and value their contributions and the factors that bind us together in a common humanity, rather than accentuate those elements that differentiate us.

One basic weakness of the Government's proposed guidelines on preventing extremism is a lack of sufficient emphasis on the aspects of life we have in common.

In the distant past, further education colleges used liberal studies to encourage discussion. This offered an opportunity to learn about cultures and religions, aspects of civil life, the political and legal processes and their rights and responsibilities.

This frequently involved the help of people from outside the college who had a special insight. There were also opportunities to explore and participate in a variety of sporting, social, cultural and educational events and visits.

I am not advocating the reintroduction of liberal studies. What we can do, though, is look at how we can provide opportunities to understand the rapidly changing environment in which teenagers live - and this includes discussion about gang culture.

Above all, we must acknowledge the factors that bind us together as members of a community and a country; in other words, a curriculum experience that not only addresses young people's vocational and academic aspirations, but also removes the ambivalence that many from minority ethnic communities feel, by giving them a clearer sense of belonging.

We must nurture a society in which people are encouraged to develop into responsible citizens who are well informed and whose contribution is valued and rewarded.

Ahmed Choonara Chair of the Network for Black Professionals.

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