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Neglect of religious studies ‘could put Islamic heritage in danger’

ABU DHABI // Religious studies teachers are struggling to properly educate pupils because of a lack of support from their schools and little interest from parents.

Two major studies and a panel of experts said many schools are not offering an effective Islamic studies education as a result.

Researchers from Abu Dhabi University Knowledge Group compiled reports from places of learning across Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

They found no private school was rated “outstanding” in Islamic studies over the past two years, trailing behind science and other subjects.

“To me that is a wake-up call for us, that is our national identity, both for us living here or locals,” said Dr Nadeem Menon, head of education at the Abu Dhabi University Knowledge Group (ADUKG).

“It has been struggling for a multitude of reasons.”

He was speaking after a lecture in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday organised by the Tabah Foundation, which promotes moderate Islamic discourse in society.

Dr Menon’s group conducted interviews with school leaders and education consultants as part of two studies.

One complaint was that too many school principals do not take the subject – which is mandatory – as seriously as they do with core classes such as science and maths, currently the focus of much funding.

“They don’t give it the same level of attention,” he said.

“They don’t follow up with the student development, monitoring teaching and learning.

“In many schools they need to make it more of a priority.”

Another issue researchers flagged up is that many religious studies teachers may not have a teaching qualification – something that will change as of this year when educators begin the new licensing process.

“The new mandate for schools is that all teachers should have the teaching licence, TELS.”

That will help fill the gaps and develop leadership teachers, he said.

A lack of colourful curriculum resources, like those available for maths or science, makes it hard for pupils to be engaged.

“A lot of teachers will tell you if I had better resources, I would be able to engage my children.”

Moreover, schools are not allocating enough hours for Islamic studies. “Many say we need more time to get into the curriculum.”

“It is also usually the first period to get postponed or cancelled if the school has an event.”

“It is a failure getting a child after 12 years of Islamic studies to still be doing things like lying or stealing, things that should have been instilled in you.”

At the lecture at the Tabah Foundation, not all academics agreed that technology used to engage pupils, like that used in maths and science, works.

Some proposed that Islamic education could be improved by going back to the classical principals of teaching Islamic studies.

“We need to stop thinking this is the 21st century and what can be done,” claimed Dr Mujadad Zaman, a research fellow and lecturer at the University of Tuebingen in Germany.

Thani Al Muhairi, a former teacher at the Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Islamic Institute and currently a research assistant at Tabah Foundation, also suggested classical learning is better.

“This is what we experienced,” he said.

He suggested a programme that saw students memorise at least a section of the Quran a year, in addition to developing thorough knowledge of Islamic science.

“They did not only memorise, they also understood,” he said.

“The religious subjects were also taught in outdoor areas or at the mosque, not only in the classroom.”

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