Dutch Muslims looking for a good orthodox school

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The schooling of a group of Muslim pupils in Amsterdam has become the prize in a hard-fought battle. Hundreds of Amsterdam school kids may end up staying at home next year. Not because there’s no place for them, but because their parents have no faith in the city’s non-Islamic schools.

Education Minister Marja van Bijsterveldt recently announced that the ICA, an Islamic secondary school in Amsterdam, would have to close its doors. The school was attracting too few pupils and the inspectorate ruled that its teaching was substandard. In such cases pupils are usually sent to another school, sad that their old school had to close but ready for a new start nonetheless. However, many of the ICA’s pupils are orthodox Muslims and don’t feel welcome at Amsterdam’s other schools. And there is no other Islamic secondary school in the city.

Making a fuss
The father of one pupil says “I’d like nothing better than to send our children to a regular school. But that’s not possible because a school that genuinely accepts our children the way they are just doesn’t exist. Other schools make a big fuss about all kinds of things. You have schools that place restrictions on how you dress. You have schools that put pressure on the children to go on school trips abroad.”

Parents and pupils have come up with an idea so that the children can continue to be taught in an Islamic setting. They have decided to embrace teaching at home. It’s an option open to them under Dutch law if there is no school in the area that reflects their spiritual views. Parents do not have to apply for permission to do this; they simply have to report the fact to the authorities.

The parents and pupils plan to tackle the matter professionally: this will be home education in name only. They hope to bring around 100 pupils together in a community centre and prepare them for state exams under the tutelage of capable teachers. But it is debatable whether this counts as teaching at home. D66 Democrat MP Boris van der Ham believes it doesn’t. He says the parents are taking advantage of a legal loophole, and are actually setting up a new school without having to meet the quality criteria that would otherwise apply.

Admission to society
Amsterdam’s Executive Councillor for Education, Lodewijk Asscher, thinks the plan is a bad idea. The Labour politician describes a good education as “a ticket that gives you admission to society”. He says “We are talking about 100 children, 100 young people who will soon be expected to make a contribution to this city and this country. They have a right to a good school diploma, they have a right to education, they have a right to meet other people, to become part of society. If you keep them at home with their parents teaching them, you’re denying them that right.”

A growing group of young Muslims believe that religion and education are inseparable. One girl who used to go to the ICA tells Mr Asscher “If you really cared about us, you’d respect us. You’d respect what’s best for us. Why won’t you let us make our own choices?”

Lodewijk Asscher argues that a good education should win out over an orthodox education. And he’s prepared to go to court to prove his point.


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