FaithWorld

Saudis want more science in religion-heavy education

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(Secondary students sit for an exam in Riyadh June 15, 2008/Fahad Shadeed)

Saudi teenager Abdulrahman Saeed lives in one of the richest countries in the world, but his prospects are poor, he blames his education, and it’s not a situation that looks like changing soon. “There is not enough in our curriculum,” says Saeed, 16, who goes to an all-male state school in the Red Sea port of Jeddah. “It is just theoretical teaching, and there is no practice or guidance to prepare us for the job market.”

Saeed wants to study physics but worries that his state high school is failing him. He says the curriculum is outdated, and teachers simply repeat what is written in text books without adding anything of practical value or discussions. Even if the teachers did do more than the basics, Saeed’s class, at 32 students, is too big for him to get adequate attention. While children in Europe and Asia often start learning a language at five or six, Saudi students start learning English at 12. Much time is spent studying religion and completing exercises heavy with moral instruction.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia sits on more than a fifth of the globe’s oil reserves and thanks to high oil prices it has almost tripled its foreign assets to more than $400 billion (248 billion pounds) since 2005. The region’s thinkers had a profound influence on the evolving western science of the Middle Ages. But from kindergarten to university, its state education system has barely entered the modern age. Focussed on religious and Arabic studies, it has long struggled to produce the scientists, engineers, economists and lawyers that Saudi needs. saudi ed 2

(Saudi students at the Technology College in Riyadh October 30, 2010/Fahad Shadeed)

High school literature, history and even science text books regularly quote Koranic verses. Employers complain that universities churn out graduates who are barely computer-literate and struggle with English. So frustrated are some students, they have taken to the streets in protest.

Muslim religious demands on French state schools rising: report

lyceeThe sometimes difficult integration of Muslims is climbing the ladder of public concerns in Europe. It’s been hotly debated in Germany and figured in recent elections in the Netherlands and Austria. Now, a French government body called the High Council for Integration (HCI) has drawn up a critical report about the problems faced by — and posed by — school pupils with immigrant backgrounds. It’s not only about Muslim pupils, but they are mentioned so frequently that it’s clear who’s mostly involved here. (Photo: Lycée Condorcet in Paris,  27 June 2009/Juan Antonio Cordero)

Among its findings, the report says Muslim pupils and parents in France are increasingly making religious demands on the state school system and that teachers should rebuff these demands by explaining the country’s principle of laïcité, the official separation of church and state. Among the problems it listed were pupils who upset classes by objecting to courses about the Holocaust, the Crusades or evolution, who demand halal meals and generally “reject French culture and its values.”

For more of its findings, read our news report on the study here.

“It is becoming difficult for teachers to resist religious pressures,” said the report, posted in draft form (here in French) on the website of the newspaper Journal du Dimanche (JDD), which published an article in its paper edition entitled “School threatened by communalism.” “We should now reaffirm secularism and train teachers how to deal with specific problems linked to the respect for this principle,” it said. The final report will be presented to the government next month.

In quiet revolution, Turkey eases headscarf ban

turkey headscarfFreshman Busra Gungor won’t have to wear a wig to cover her Islamic headscarf, as many pious relatives and friends did to avoid getting kicked off campus.

In a landmark decision, Turkey’s Higher Education Board earlier this month ordered Istanbul University, one of the country’s biggest, to stop teachers from expelling from classrooms female students who do not comply with a ban on the headscarf. (Photo: Women demonstration for headscarves at the  Constitutional Court in Ankara on October 23, 2008/Umit Bektas)

It was the latest twist in a long political and legal tussle in Turkey between those who see the garment as a symbol of their Muslim faith and those who view it as a challenge to the country’s secular constitution.

German universities to train Muslim imams, teachers

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Germany has announced it will fund Islamic studies at three state universities to train prayer leaders and religion teachers more in tune with Western society than the foreign imams preaching at most mosques here.

Two universities, Tübingen and Münster, are famous for their faculties of Christian theology and count German-born Pope Benedict among their former professors. The third, Osnabrück, opened a course for imams this week with 30 students. (Photo: Education Minister Annette Schavan in Berlin, October 14, 2010/Thomas Peter)

Since the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, several European countries have been seeking ways to educate imams at their universities rather than importing them from Islamic countries out of step with modern and multicultural societies.

Berlin issues guidelines on integrating Muslim pupils in schools

GERMANY SARRAZIN/TRIALIf you’re a teacher in Germany and are unsure whether to allow your Muslim pupils to pray at school, to skip swimming lessons or wear the veil, you may want to consult a new handbook aimed at dealing with the sometimes tricky task of reconciling Muslim practices with German schooling.

Berlin’s Ministry for Education, Science and Research has just published a guide called “Islam and School”  giving practical advice on how to resolve these issues and encourage “people to live together respectfully and peacefully”, which you can find in German here.

The guidelines aim to boost the integration of Germany’s Muslim community, Europe’s second largest Muslim population after France. Around 4 million Muslims live in Germany, meaning about 5 percent of the overall population.

Excerpts from pope’s London speech to Catholic teachers

twickenham 2 (Photo: Nuns waiting for Pope Benedict at a Catholic school in London, 17 Sept 2010/Kevin Coombs)

Visiting a Catholic school in London on Friday, Pope Benedict said teachers should give their pupils not only marketable skills but also wisdom, which he said was inseparable from knowledge of God. Catholic schools and Catholic religious teachers play an important part in transmitting this wisdom, he said. He also stressed the need to protect pupils from sexual predators.

Following are excerpts from his address to the teachers:

“I am pleased to have this opportunity to pay tribute to the outstanding contribution made by religious men and women in this land to the noble task of education… As you know, the task of a teacher is not simply to impart information or to provide training in skills intended to deliver some economic benefit to society; education is not and must never be considered as purely utilitarian. It is about forming the human person, equipping him or her to live life to the full – in short it is about imparting wisdom. And true wisdom is inseparable from knowledge of the Creator, for “both we and our words are in his hand, as are all understanding and skill in crafts”.

“This transcendent dimension of study and teaching was clearly grasped by the monks who contributed so much to the evangelization of these islands … Since the search for God, which lies at the heart of the monastic vocation, requires active engagement with the means by which he makes himself known – his creation and his revealed word – it was only natural that the monastery should have a library and a school. It was the monks’ dedication to learning as the path on which to encounter the Incarnate Word of God that was to lay the foundations of our Western culture and civilization…

German commentaries on Bundesbank’s Sarrazin after Jewish, Muslim remarks

bundesbank 1 (Photo: German Bundesbank President Axel Weber at news conference after the bank decided to dismiss board member Thilo Sarrazin, 2 September 2010/Alex Domanski)

Germany’s Bundesbank has voted to dismiss board member Thilo Sarrazin, whose remarks about Muslim immigrants and Jews have divided the country. Following are extracts from Friday’s German newspapers on the central bank’s decision, which must still be approved by the German President Christian Wulff.

BILD (Conservative mass circulation)

“President Christian Wulff is in a horrible jam. If he signs the order to fire Sarrazin, he’ll be viewed by millions of Germans as just another one of those jaundiced political leaders … but if he doesn’t sign it, he’ll have the chancellor and the entire political establishment against him.

“But if Wulff decides to read the book himself, he’ll see that it’s based on a lot of well-documented truths about immigrants, education and Germany’s social state. And unfortunately an appalling, vulgar Darwinism that reduces every person to a hostage of their genetic makeup.

French Catholic church campaigns for more priests

A pilgrim prays during a ceremony lead by Pope Benedict XVI following an Eucharistic Procession in Lourdes at La Prairie in Lourdes, France on September 14, 2008.

A pilgrim prays in Lourdes, France on September 14, 2008/Jean-Philippe Arles

France’s Catholic church has unfurled a public campaign for more priests to ease a shortage amid a crisis of confidence worsened by widening allegations of clergymen sexually abusing children.

The Vatican’s moral authority has been eroded by reports of sexually predatory priests and cover-ups by supervising bishops in Europe and North America, compounding a longer-term decline in piety and church attendance.

“Just because there is a crisis doesn’t mean we stop recruiting,” said Father Bernard Podvin, spokesman for Roman Catholic bishops in France, a country of 62 million people of whom about two-thirds identify themselves as Catholics.

Teach Islam at German universities – academic council report

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Humboldt University in Berlin, 8 Jan 2010/Friedrich Petersdorff

Germany should set up centres for Islamic studies at two or three state universities to educate Muslim scholars, teachers and pastoral workers for its large Muslim minority, an academic advisory council has said. The Council on Science and Humanities (Wissenschaftsrat) said the lack of such institutes at universities, which already teach Christian and Jewish theology, “does not do justice to the importance of the largest non-Christian faith community in Germany.”

Muslim organisations should join advisory boards to help develop Islam institutes and choose faculty members and all main Muslim views in Germany should be represented, it said in a report (here in German) on Monday.

“For me, this is part of a modern integration policy,” Education Minister Annette Schavan told Deutschlandfunk radio in Berlin. “The main question will be who the partner is in developing this.”

UPDATE: Uproar after court says no crucifixes in Italian schools

crucifix-italy (Photo: A crucifix in a Rome classroom, 3 Nov 2009/Tony Gentile)

Here’s an update from Phil Pullella in Rome:

The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday that crucifixes should be removed from Italian classrooms, prompting Vatican anger and sparking uproar in Italy, where such icons are embedded in the national psyche.

“The ruling of the European court was received in the Vatican with shock and sadness,” said Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, adding that it was “wrong and myopic” to try to exclude a symbol of charity from education.