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Wednesday, 27 December, 2000, 00:19 GMT
Embracing the faiths
Zamara Khan and pupils
All pupils' religions are recognised at Monega Primary
As Ramadan ends, BBC News Online's community affairs reporter, Cindi John, reports on how schools of many faiths handle the winter religious festivals.

The last day of term at Monega Primary school in east London, and holidays are uppermost in the minds of most of the children.

Still, the Year 6 class listen closely as their teacher explains the religious significance of the season to them.

But Zamara Khan is not talking about Christmas and the associated Christian traditions.

She is explaining the festival of Ramadan and its importance to Muslims worldwide.

Monega primary school is in an area of the London borough of Newham which has a large Asian population.

Fewer than 100 of its 760 pupils are white and less than half are from a Christian background.

Robert Henney
Robert Henney has taken a multi-cultural approach to teaching

Most belong to the Muslim, Hindu and Sikh faiths.

That could present difficulties at a time of year which in most British primary schools is closely linked with Christmas nativity plays and parties.

But at Monega primary school the headteacher, Robert Henney, has deliberately fostered a culture where all religions are given equal weighting.

"The thing about this area is that it has an ever-changing population.

"So at the moment we have children from roughly about 28 different nationalities so our work has to reflect part of those children's backgrounds," he said.

Fasting

The school does hold a nativity play and a Christmas party which many non-Christian children attend.

This year though the Muslim festival of Ramadan, which involves fasting in daylight hours, has coincided with the run-up to Christmas so some children had to miss out on the party.

Jonathan Jacob
Jonathan enjoys learning about other cultures

But Zamara Khan, herself a Muslim, says the school made sure they did not feel excluded.

"I ran a special class, we called it the Islamic zone and it was just something quite general, messages that could be related to other people, other faiths as well," she said.

The school's multi-cultural policy is popular with its pupils.

Ten-year-old Mira is a Muslim. She is pleased the school helps children who are fasting.

Sana Chaudri
Sana is glad that Ramadan is marked at her school
"We are allowed to stay inside and not run around so we are safe," she said.

Jonathan is from a Christian family. But he is pleased that at Monega he is able to celebrate other festivals as well.

He said: "It's good to learn about other religions, not just your religion. It gives you more information about the similarities and other things."

And Sana, who is Muslim, is glad the school marks Ramadan.

"I feel that they should celebrate it because the majority in the school are Muslims," she said.

Multi-cultural curriculum

Mr Henney said that the multi-cultural approach to festivals extended to all areas of teaching.

He said staff made sure to include work on areas where the children came from as part of the curriculum.

"That can involve sometimes having links with local religious groups and community associations, researching religions and cultures and buying artefacts from abroad so we have things that children will recognise from their own countries," he said.

But he said that although there were teachers from the Muslim, Sikh and Hindu faiths at the school, in general there was difficulty in recruiting teachers from ethnic minorities.

Diwali poster
The children also celebrate the Hindu festival of Diwali

"Some of our teachers are trained in the North and have never been in a large cosmopolitan area like London and sometimes it's a little bit of a shock.

"But they very quickly begin to realise the sort of variety and wealth of culture that there is in this area and they take to it very well," he added.

Year 6 teacher Zamara Khan believed her Muslim background gave her an extra insight.

"I feel I have quite a lot of knowledge about other religions, because of my upbringing, the people I've integrated with, I've lived with.

"As a teacher I feel it's my duty to also include everyone because there are lots of similarities and areas where children will contribute but from their perspective," she said.

Mr Henney hopes eventually to increase the number of teachers from ethnic minorities by working with an organisation, the Urban Learning Foundation, which is encouraging local people to train to become teachers.

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See also:

07 Oct 00 | Education
Go-ahead for Muslim girls' school
30 Nov 99 | Education
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01 Mar 99 | Education
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