Muslim-only classes blocked

30th July 2004 at 01:00

In supposedly integrated French schools, Muslims and Christians are eating in different parts of the canteen, even using separate taps. TES correspondents across the globe examine the escalating battle between religion and secularism

Education minister Letizia Moratti has blocked attempts by a Milan secondary to create a "ghetto" class for Muslim students.

Supporting the minister's decision, the regional director of education for Lombardy, Mario Dutto, said the proposed Muslim-only class in the liceo Gaetana Agnesi violated Italy's constitution, which bans discrimination and encourages integration.

But head Giovanni Gaglio said the decision was a "wasted opportunity". He fears that most of the students enrolled for the class will now drop out of school. The initial request for a separate class came from some parents of Muslim pupils, mostly female, due to start at the school in September.

These pupils would have followed the same courses as their Italian counterparts, and been taught exclusively by Italian teachers. The girls would also have been allowed to wear veils.

The plan was approved by the school council and enthusiastically embraced by teachers, who saw the experiment as a move towards integration rather than segregation.

But it sparked a media furore. "Racist" and "grotesque" were just two of the epithets used by politicians from left and right-wing parties to condemn the plan, The row comes hard on the heels of a controversial decision by authorities in Naples to let schools close for minority festivals, such as Ramadan and the Chinese New Year.

Both controversies show how Italy is struggling to adjust to its newly multi-ethnic society.

There are now at least 2.5 million immigrants from developing countries, with more than 232,000 foreign pupils - 3 per cent of the school population - attending Italian schools. Forty per cent of the pupils are at primary school, with Albanians, Moroccans, and children from former Yugoslavia the most numerous groups.

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