All-white or all-Asian schools should be avoided: British report

February 16th, 2008 - 11:00 am ICT by admin  

By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, Feb 16 (IANS) Schools with overwhelmingly white or Asian children are likely to be breeding grounds for extremism and damage community relations in Britain, says a new government-sponsored report. Arguing for efforts to foster greater interaction between children of different races and religions, the report by Lancaster University in northern England says all-white or all-Asian schools should be avoided wherever possible.

The report, which holds important policy lessons for the government, is the result of a two-year research project funded by the British home ministry and the department for communities and local government. It was commissioned after violent racial rioting between whites and Asians in the northern towns of Burnley, Oldham and Bradford in the summer of 2001.

The rioting shocked the nation and was ascribed to race, religious and class differences.

As part of the study, more than 400 15-year-olds were questioned about their attitudes toward race, religion and cultural integration in the summer term of 2006. They came from three non-religious schools, all in poor areas - one in Burnley attended mostly by white pupils and two schools in Blackburn, where one had mostly Indian or Pakistani pupils and the other was ethnically mixed.

The Lancaster University report found that a significant proportion of pupils from the predominantly white school exhibited “illiberal and anti-integrationists attitudes” while those from the predominantly Asian school were liberal and tolerant.

The report’s authors come out strongly in favour of mixed schools, swimming against the tide in a country where state-funded faith-based schools - schools that are meant for students from a particular religion - were promoted by former prime minister Tony Blair.

“The mixed school should be seen as a form of interfaith activity in itself and probably the most effective in ameliorating illiberal attitudes among some young white people and helping young Asian/Muslims to encounter and learn how to deal with racism and prejudice in their early lives - in the classroom and the playground - while they have helpful adults around them,” said authors Alan Billings and Andrew Holden of the university’s religious studies department.

“Mono-cultural school in towns like Burnley should be avoided wherever possible and where this is not possible, attempts should be made to bring young people together from the different communities as part of their normal school experience,” they added.

The report takes on added significance as the Labour government tries to strike a balance between religions and multiculturalism on the one hand and modern, liberal and secular politics on the other.

With Muslims numbering more than 1.6 million in a population of 60.7 million, many Britons on the traditional right have been calling for greater integration rather diversity.

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the Church of England - the main faith in Britain - stirred a controversy last week by speculating that certain aspects of Islamic Sharia law may be “unavoidable” in Britain.

The report also argued that interfaith activities played an important part in bringing people of different faiths, cultures and ethnicities together and should be supported in order to build partnerships that also include secular groups.

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