Immigrants often come to Canada for financial and social opportunities not available in their home countries, or less easily available. They also come, and often make the decision to stay, based on educational opportunities for their children. Public school education in Canada is of high quality, and there are no fees involved except for extras. This makes a public school option attractive to most Canadians. In general though, as cut backs through the 90s affected the public education system, parents who can afford it have chosen private school options, most often secular.
Jewish families have long chosen to send their children to private Hebrew schools, when they can afford it. Jewish communities have made the development and continuance of such schools a priority. Fundamentalist Christians, sometimes of specific ethnicities, have done the same. For historical reasons Roman Catholic schools have had a unique status.
There is a long tradition of faith-based schools in Canada. Indeed, all schools at one time were faith-based. When the French lost to the British in the Seven Years' War (1756-1763), the Treaty of Paris (1763) guaranteed French language, Roman Catholicism, and education in French language Roman Catholic schools for French Canadians. While the French Canadian school system was distinctly Roman Catholic, the English Canadian school system was distinctly Protestant. Depending on province and sometimes region, in other words depending on population and local governance, either one could have been labelled and paid for via taxes as the "public school" option. For the other there would be extra fees.
More recently, through the 80s and 90s, Protestant public schools became more secular and less monarchist. While they have always accepted children of all races, ethnicities, and faiths, they have gradually removed the morning "Our Father" prayer, singing of "God Save the Queen", and celebration of specifically Christian holidays, like the traditional nativity play at Christmas time. Instead, different school boards have opted either to ignore all religious studies, or to specifically incorporate teaching on different faiths and cultural activities related to holidays that are significant to their local populations. Individual teachers have a certain leeway in how they choose to integrate these, or not.
All schools are obliged by law to accommodate their individual or collective students' beliefs. This is particularly true of public schools which are funded by tax payer dollars, while private schools, whether faith based or not, have more rights to determine specifics, like dress codes, within their schools. There have been challenges to these rights, famously the right for Sikhs to wear a kirpan, whereas knives are usually forbidden on school grounds. Muslim girls have been challenged about wearing hijab, particularly for sports safety reasons, but have the right to do so within school based activities.
There have long been individual accommodations for students of whatever faiths, around their time off for holidays, or other requirements. For example, my mother taught a high school student who refused to stand for the playing over the intercom each morning of "O Canada". As a Jehovah's Witness he was not allowed to honour patriotic symbols. Since she couldn't tolerate him sitting through the national anthem, especially in the presence of the rest of the class, they agreed he would go into the hall for the playing of the anthem, and return when it was over. They both lived happily with this solution for the year she had him in her home room class.
Most Muslims in Canada are recent immigrants, and most have their children in public schools. A few send their children to private Islamic schools, that is, schools which follow the provincial curriculum but have additional classes in religious studies, follow Islamic dress codes, and are often segregated. Those in public schools receive their religious education elsewhere, but are accommodated for their beliefs, holidays, and dress, as are all Canadian students. For example, during Ramadan, schools with a high Muslim population set aside a separate room at lunch time for Muslim students to pray and reflect, lead by parent or local volunteers. Individual Muslim students would also be accommodated to meet their needs even if they were a small minority in a school.
Mallick: Time for someone to speak up for shy young girls" by Heather Mallick, Star Columnist
Just before the ending of the school term last May-June, one school's religious accommodation of its Muslim students drew media attention after a Hindu activist group protested. The school's high Muslim population would attend obligatory Friday prayers at the closest mosque, which was still a challenging distance away--all distances being greater in time commitment during the winter. In order for the students to be able to return to their next class on time, and to return at all, the school decided to allow for Friday prayers to be conducted in the school auditorium, lead by the local religious leaders, and to be attended on a voluntary basis by any Muslim students who wished to do so. This effectively accommodated the religious needs of the school's students, and eliminated Friday afternoon lateness or absenteeism.
This went on for 3 years without problems, until the complaint was launched. Unfortunately there was much media misinformation and hand wringing over this rather standard accommodation. Some of it was incredibly ignorant of the Canadian school system--including from Canadian reporters. Other articles misrepresented what was happening at that particular school, or launched into Islamophobic crusades to liberate the Muslim students, particularly the girls praying at the back of the auditorium, or sitting further back when menstruating. Needless to say, the blogosphere went even further than the mainstream media. The Toronto District School Board, responsible for this school, is not backing down on this accommodation.
The article below is a good brief overview of the situation, linking it to an American example of fairness towards Muslims, and rejection of Islamophobia.
14-year-old Manigha Satari, left, and Rida Zahra, 12, eat food they purchased in the school. Valley Park Middle School at 130 Overlea Blvd. requires all their students to eat lunch in the cafeteria [along with a number of other schools, in a bid to improve nutrition and decrease obesity, by stopping students from eating at local fast food outlets].
By MOHAMMED AZHAR ALI KHAN
Canada remains a model of mutual respect
Jul 24, 2011 21:47
The Toronto District School Board of Canada and the news network CNN stood out this month for fairness and refused to jump on the Islamophobia wagon.
For North American Muslims, enjoying equal rights with fellow North Americans but harassed by malicious allegations, these actions reflect the decency of the Canadian and American people and offer them hope.
In the Walid Shoebat saga, CNN performed its journalistic duty faithfully. It investigated Shoebat who has been raking money, sometimes a half a million dollars a year, speaking and writing denouncing Islam and calling American Muslims a threat to the United States. He spoke even at US government institutions, basing his expertise on Islam and terrorism on being a former Muslim and terrorist. He was born in Beit Sahour, close to Bethlehem, to a Palestinian father and an American mother. He claims that he bombed Bank Leumi’s former branch in Bethlehem and was jailed by Israelis before moving to the US. He said he converted to Christianity in 1993.
As CNN's Anderson Cooper stated in two reports, which included interviews with Shoebat, his claims are dubious. CNN found no evidence of the bombing of Bank Leumi’s former branch in Bethlehem or of Shoebat being a former Palestinian terrorist or ever being in Israeli jails. His relatives in his village denied his having being an activist. Hopefully, Americans will now see Shoebat as a self-serving Islam basher whose words are not to be trusted.
In the Canadian case, the Muslims’ freedom to worship was challenged.
For three years Muslim students of the Valley Park Middle School in Toronto have prayed on Friday noon in congregation. Canadian schools, universities, private offices and government institutions routinely make “reasonable accommodation” to meet the religious obligations of all Canadians. Sikhs, for example, are allowed to wear the kirpan. Prayer and/or meditation rooms are also provided at Canadian airports.
Suddenly, the Canadian Hindu Advocacy objected to the use of school premises for prayers. A Jewish Defense League spokesperson called for monitoring the prayers to ensure that the imam conducting such services doesn't preach intolerance. The president of Canadian Muslim Congress expressed concern that Ismailis and Ahmadis might not be invited to such prayers because they are not viewed as mainstream Muslims while another CMC official objected to girls praying in the back rows. CMC has said it might sue the school board. The International Campaign against Shariah Courts leader called the service a “political statement” by Muslims. A Canadian Council of Muslim Women official also called for monitoring the prayers.
Friday congregation prayers are obligatory on Muslims. All that the school did was to enable Muslim students to follow their faith. This is no more a political statement than are services at synagogues, churches or temples. As for “monitoring,” media, students and politicians of different faiths often attend Muslim Friday prayers at mosques to listen, exchange views or to just meet Muslims. No Muslim objects.
There is no evidence that Ismaili or Ahmadi students at the Toronto school, if any, wanted to join the prayers and were refused. Ismailis pray at their own jamaatkhanas and their prayer services are reserved only for Ismailis. Ahmadis visit mainstream mosques for funeral services of friends. They never pray, however, behind Shiite or Sunni imams. They pray only behind an Ahmadi who owes allegiance to Ahmadi prophets and caliphs. Mainstream Muslims, Ismailis and Ahmadis maintain excellent relations in Canada. But they pray among their own and, like Canadians of other faiths, neither join nor invite others for prayers. As to the claim that women have to pray in the back rows, this argument could be used to ban Muslim prayers throughout Canada — and the practices of many other faiths.
Most Canadians cherish freedom and do not want agitators to sow divisions and acrimony. Christian groups, the Hindu Canadian Alliance, the World Sikh Organization and Jewish Community Council support the right of Muslims, and all other Canadians, to freedom of religion. In many cities Muslims prayed at churches, at their invitation, before their mosques were built.
The Toronto District School Board has stood firm and reiterated that it upholds the religious freedom of all students and will continue to provide them with reasonable accommodation without discrimination or favor. It said Muslim students will continue to pray as they wish.
So Canada remains a model of mutual respect despite occasional efforts to sow dissension. Muslims are grateful for this blessing but they and all Canadians have to remain vigilant to safeguard their freedom and harmony.
— Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan is a retired Canadian journalist, civil servant and refugee judge.
On Labour Day, September 5th, just before classes began for this school year, there was another interesting article on schooling choices being made by Muslim parents and students. Part of what was interesting to me about this article was that it was deemed newsworthy.
Many, if not most, of "my Muslims" have attended Roman Catholic schools, or at least Roman Catholic nursery, day care, or kindergarten schools, often in former French colonies. Their parents were concerned that they get a high quality education, at a reasonable price, and an early mastery of French, so started them in schools run by nuns at the age of 3, then switched to public schools at age 6 or 7 for their obligatory education. Some switched to private French schools run by the French government, and so following the norms of laïcité, that is no religious symbolism in schools, similar but different to American secularism.
In my experience, Saudi students in Canada on medical specialist scholarships, most often have their children attend secular English language nursery, daycare, and kindergarten schools, then public schools, in order to best ensure their grounding in English before they return to the Saudi public system in Arabic, or sometimes private schooling in Saudi Arabia.
In order to best appreciate the article below, one should realize that Roman Catholic schools in Canada follow the provincial curriculum (including evolutionary science), add religious classes based on Catholicism, and cover interfaith topics in later years. In Ontario, at least, Roman Catholic schools are paid for by taxpayer dollars. Taxpayers may choose to direct the educational portion of their taxes to the public (formerly Protestant) system or to the Catholic one (which has its own local boards of education, in English and in French).
Muslim students enrolling in Catholic schools
EDUCATION REPORTER— From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
Published Monday, Sep. 05, 2011 10:53PM EDT
Last updated Tuesday, Sep. 06, 2011 7:10AM EDT
At a time when progressive sex education and gay-rights clubs are becoming an increasing part of the secular curriculum, many devout families in the country’s most populous province are looking for a faith-based approach to learning. In Ontario, however, the only publicly funded faith-based option is Catholic schools – and that’s just fine for some Muslim parents, even if it’s someone else’s faith.
For Seid Oumer, an observant Muslim and a father of four from Ethiopia, Catholic education has a lot going for it. He sells the other Muslim parents on the benefits of uniforms, discipline and the faith-based approach.
Mr. Oumer’s 16-year-old daughter, Daliya, has been attending Catholic religion classes at Cardinal Ambrozic Catholic Secondary School in Brampton, Ont., for two years.
“I find it very interesting, I like getting an idea of how our religions are very similar,” she said.
Ms. Oumer feels comfortable using the chapel whenever she needs to pray. The only time she feels a little awkward is on special occasions such as Christmas, Easter or Remembrance Day, when the school attends Mass, and she’s left alone in a pew while her classmates line up to take the Holy Eucharist.
“They suggest that non-Catholics go up for a blessing, but I don’t know, I don’t want to do that,” she said. “So I sit down and everyone’s like, ‘Why aren’t you going up?’ I tell them I just don’t want to.”
Though at least one parent must be Catholic in order for a student to enroll in a Catholic elementary school, at the high-school level faith doesn’t matter as long as there’s room. Declining high school enrolment has meant that there often is room – about 10 per cent of the pupils attending Catholic boards in the Greater Toronto Area are non-Catholic.
Shared Abrahamic traditions and an emphasis on modest dress help make Muslim students feel at home at Catholic schools. Over the past decade, there is anecdotal evidence that more and more of them have been taking advantage of the fact that at the secondary level, Catholic schools are open to any local family who wishes to register, be they Muslim, Hindu, Sikh or Rastafarian.
In the Catholic board, religious accommodation hasn’t ignited controversy like it has at the Toronto District School Board.
This spring, when it became widely known that a Toronto middle school was allowing an imam to lead prayer sessions in the school cafeteria on Fridays, critics including Jewish, Hindu and secular groups accused the school of taking accommodation too far, saying such services were inappropriate during class time. This summer, they rallied outside that board’s headquarters protesting “the mosqueteria.”
One of the reasons Muslims students attend Catholic schools is because many Canadian Muslims are recent immigrants from East Africa and South Asia where “often, the best schools are the ones run by nuns,” said Shafique Virani, a professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Toronto. “That image may have remained from when they were back home.”
So far, no one has tried to quantify the trend or study the reasons behind it, he said.
Mr. Oumer said he is grateful that in Catholic schools his children will be taught a conservative approach to reproductive biology, sex education and same-sex relations.
Sometimes the local Catholic school does have a better reputation or higher standardized test scores than its secular counterpart.
That’s what prompted Saadia Sediqzadah to ask her parents if she could attend Father Michael McGivney Catholic Academy in Markham, Ont., east of Toronto.
She says her father was worried she might convert, but that his biggest concern was that she might face discrimination or bullying at her new school.
“He said it was okay if I didn’t tell anyone I was Muslim,” she said. “But I decided I had to be up front and I went around to everyone and told them, ‘Hi my name is Saadia, I’m Afghan and I’m Muslim.’ ”
The fall of her Grade 9 year, Ms. Sediqzadah said there were only a few Muslims at her school, but by the time she graduated, in 2006, there were close to 40.
“It’s word of mouth, parents talking to other parents,” she said. “Often families are related or from the same community and they’re telling each other good things about the Catholic schools.”
Your comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?
What type of school system or systems did you attend?
What advantages/ disadvantages did you experience because of it?
Where would you prefer (your) children to study?
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