Britain’s first state-funded Hindu school launched

June 7th, 2008 - 6:26 pm ICT by IANS  

By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, June 7 (IANS) Secular Britain’s first state-funded Hindu school was launched Saturday with its head promising to promote religious harmony. “We recognise and take our duty seriously in ensuring that we promote community cohesion, inclusion and value inter-cultural and religious diversity,” promised head teacher Naina Parmar of the Krishna-Avanti Primary School Edgware, a northwest London suburb with a large ethnic Indian population.

“We will ensure our pupils are equipped with life-long skills and attitudes essential to enable them to make outstanding contributions to all aspects of contemporary British society,” Parmar added.

The school attracted criticism last year when it said it would give priority to children whose parents followed what it described as the Hindu teachings of vegetarianism and teetotalism.

Its admission policy now has a list of nine criteria, the first six of which include children from practising Hindu families and those from “Hindu families who are broadly following the tenets of Hinduism”.

The school is also supported by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Iskcon), and 10 places are reserved for children from a large temple, the Bhaktivedanta Manor, that is run by the movement.

The government funding of religious schools is a controversial issue in Britain, with critics claiming the practice encourages exclusion rather than inclusion of children in a secular and multi-cultural country.

British campaigners for humanism and atheism - led by scientist Richard Dawkins - say children should not be forced into any religion before the age of 15, so that they can choose whether or not they want to follow a faith.

The British government says it is committed to providing faith schools where there is demand from parents.

The vast majority of the 6,850 faith schools in Britain are either Protestant or Catholic Christian schools. Of the rest 37 are Jewish, seven Muslim, two Sikh and one each of Greek Orthodox and Seventh Day Adventist schools.

In total, these schools have 1.7 million pupils.

With the Hindu Bhoomi Puja concluded Saturday, the Krishna-Avanti Primary School will open its doors to the first reception class in September, but children will spend a year in temporary classrooms while new buildings are constructed.

The 10 million pound primary school will have 236 places, providing a faith school for some of the 40,000 Hindus living in the London Borough of Harrow, which is close to Edgware.

The school says that it will promote “holistic health through the provision of a safe, caring environment, a balanced vegetarian diet and opportunities to practise yoga, meditation and the arts”.

The idea of state-funded Hindu schools, including the one in Harrow, has been promoted by a charity called I-Foundation, which also wants similar schools in the London neighbourhood of Barnet and the city of Leicester.

The charity, run by a group of Hindu financial experts, says it works on “sustainable projects that promote Vedic culture and philosophy”.

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