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Burning Issue unpacks challenges in local Muslim schools

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In South Africa’s ever-changing educational environment and with the unrelenting social challenges youth in the country face, independent Islamic-oriented schools should be an oasis for concerned parents and developing children alike. However, these “Muslim schools” are often faced with sharp criticism from the different communities they serve. Funding challenges, affiliation, educational quality, infrastructure, discipline and morality have all been issues that these schools have had to address, both privately and publicly, and these issues were necessary to unpack on VOC’s Burning Issue show.

Affiliation, quality assurance and credibility

Providing clarity on one of the most pertinent questions surrounding Muslim schools in South Africa, the principal of Islamia College’s Boys High School, Shaheem Galant explained that Muslim schools in the Western Cape offering NSC-oriented schooling are not only registered with the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) but are also affiliated with a quality assurance body, among others.

“If you are not registered with the WCED you cannot offer the National Senior Certificate (NSC). After being registered with the WCED, you have to be Umalusi accredited as well to see if the quality of education is appropriate, applicable and successful,” said Galant.

“The question I want to answer is that all Muslim schools – we are aware of – are registered with the WCED. Although we are affiliated to the Association of Muslim Schools (AMS), we are also part of the JLC (Joint Liaison Committee) and the JLC is involved with NAISA (National Alliance of Independent School Associations). All faith-based and independent schools belong to this organisation and it’s a quality assurance body which dictates what should be done and what is expected by the public of independent schools.”

Reiterating the sentiments of Galant, the former principal of Trafalgar High School, Nadeem Hendricks stressed that there is “no less accountability and governance in a Muslim school than any other school in South Africa.”

Shaykh Irafaan Abrahams, president of the Muslim Judicial Council and principal of the Darul Islam Islamic High School then explained the structure of the AMS in more detail.

“We, as Islamic high schools, work together. We come together and talk about issues, how we can improve the quality of education and the Islamic awareness of our children. All the Islamic high schools form part of the AMS… All the Muslim schools in the Western Cape fall under AMS Western Cape and then we have the national AMS to whom we have to report back,” explained Shaykh Abrahams.

‘Don’t look at Muslim schools differently’

Concern was raised at the pervasive attitude many in the Muslim community hold toward Muslim schools in South Africa. This was attributed, at least in part, to some lingering consequence of Apartheid-era indoctrination characterised by a “white is better” outlook.

“People mustn’t look at Muslim schools differently – it’s not a backdoor building that teaches anything. We are a structured school with administrative duties, compliance with the CAPS document and all the requirements of the education department as principals and educators….Islamia scored 97% for numeracy and 96% for literacy while the provincial aggregate was 24% for literacy and numeracy. Take our 97% away and the provincial level probably would’ve dropped. All Muslim schools contribute to that aggregate,” said Galant.

Hendricks says that local communities need to appreciate their Muslim schools and teachers more and frustratedly stated that he’s “sick of people saying, ‘are Muslim schools producing [results]’.”

He says there’s a dire need for religious schools in South Africa due to societal moral degradation.

“I want to admire teachers that are teaching at Muslim schools. You must take your hat off to them,” said Hendricks.

Shaykh Abrahams added that he feels Muslim schools are, as a whole, doing well in South Africa and that their results echo the statement. He emphasised, however, that the duty of Muslim schools is not limited to institutionalised education in preparation for the NSC, but also to ensure adequate spiritual education and development.

“The schools, I feel generally, are doing very well and we have good results at all the Islamic high schools. However, we are not the lifesavers of everyone. We are there to ensure that our children are well educated both academically and Islamically. If the intention of the school is not to develop spiritually, then why open an Islamic school?

The school is established to create good Muslim academics – people who know their Allah and their Din and who carry out their Din wherever they go. People think that when they send their children to Islamic schools the children will automatically change into angels… we are not raising angels – we are raising human beings.”

Challenges

A lack of financial resources is one of the key reasons behind access to Muslim schools in South Africa not being as widespread as it could ideally be.

Zaffar Ahmed, the principal of Al-Falaah College in KwaZulu-Natal says that the biggest challenges facing Muslim schools are financial sustainability, making them affordable and the schools’ ability to attract and retain quality staff.

Shaykh Adil Hattas, deputy administrator of Darul Islam Islamic High School urged communities to “take ownership” of their schools rather than just criticize where they see fit. He believes this could further assist in addressing the affordability issue.

“The question is, are Muslim schools only for the rich? The answer is no. Is it a privilege? It is an absolute necessity. However, having said that, there are great concerns about affordability. It’s imperative for our community to take ownership of the school…it’s easy to criticize but it’s a better thing to come to the school and ask what you can do for the school.

Some of our schools don’t have facilities. We need parents to come and assist and make it a reality so their children can prosper. Every single person in the community has a responsibility to ensure that there’s not a single Muslim school struggling. We must come together, have a plan and look toward the next 50 or 70 years to make certain most of our children can go to Muslim schools,” said Shaykh Hattas.

Overall, there seemed to be consensus on the issues facing Muslim schools in South Africa being primarily financial and prejudice based. It was agreed that there was an urgent need to dispel the myth that Muslim schools are unprofessional, unregistered and second-rate schools intended for delinquents. Galant, in particular, noted that there seems to be a widespread refusal to acknowledge and recognize the potential of Muslim Schools in the country.

“To establish a Muslim school takes an enormous amount of courage because of the lack of resources. You have to put your begging cap on all the time to ensure you deliver” – Nadeem Hendricks

VOC


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