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Title: A comparative study of the education of Muslim pupils and ethnicity in state schools in Britain and France
Author: Bernard-Patel, Sylvie
ISNI:       0000 0004 2697 0291
Awarding Body: University of Surrey
Current Institution: University of Surrey
Date of Award: 2010
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The objective of this research is to investigate the opinions and experiences of young British and French Muslim people in state-funded secondary schools. The focus is on understanding how the education system in the two countries address and answer the cultural needs of children from the Muslim community and on examining the cultural constraints that operate and the difficulties encountered. Both nations have a large immigrant population that has emerged from the legacy of Colonial Empire and whose ethnic origins and religious beliefs vary. A significant proportion of this population is of Islamic faith, with nearly five million in France and about two million in Britain. Attempts to integrate the Muslim minority groups into the host society have revealed that there are differences in the ways the two countries accept cultural practices in the sphere of state and societal affairs. France fundamentally rejects a society based on communitarianism, while Britain bases its societal structures around it. While France makes a radical distinction between what governs the public from the private spheres (i. e. the street and the house), Britain supports the right to display religious symbols in the public sphere, hence showing acceptance of cultural differences. France is governed by a Republican ideology that is derived from the Revolution of 1789. Relations with 'religion' are established on a separation between the Church and the State, favouring the principle of laicite as one of the key Republican values. The issue of religious pluralism in state schools has given rise to different problems in the two countries. In France, the wearing the Islamic headscarf in school results in a 'dress-code' problem with underlying symbolism, causing arguments about religious pluralism, integration and laicite. In Britain the debate focuses primarily on the state funding of Islamic schools, on discrimination and Religious Education within the context of British ethnic and race relations (e. g. in 2005, the Court of Appeal ruled that a Muslim girl was entitled to wear traditional 'head-to-toe' dress in her school). The research shows that being Muslim in Britain and France refers, most of all, to conveying the cultural values and heritage to younger generations. Muslim identity embodies mainly a religious dimension for which the teaching of Islam is predominantly significant for British and French participants. However, French participants display a less religious practice of Islam than their British counterparts, showing instead a relaxed approach to the faith while retaining a sense of cultural tradition. Bom in Britain or France, participants felt strongly associated to their place of birth as that to which they belong. However, they were self-aware of being Muslim in a non-Muslim country and believed they should have the right and freedom to display their religious identity and cultural practices. While British Muslim children have a greater and clearer sense of national identity, in tune with their cultural heritage and religious identity, French Muslim pupils respond to their sense of national identity with little or no pride, considering it as an attribute challenged by their cultural heritage. School systems in Britain and France differ in the way they deal with cultural differences. Although the common goal is to reach social cohesion and equality, Muslim pupils in the two countries have very different experiences at school and of school. British Muslim pupils appear to feel comfortable at school and believe their teachers understand and respect them and their culture. In general, British schools provide and allocate the time, space and consideration required for their cultural needs (e. g. prayer room, wash room and dietary requests). In contrast, French Muslim pupils do not display the same level of affinity with their school, do not share a sense of well-being at school and consider their teachers as alright. Basically, the French schools demonstrate little or no effort regarding their cultural needs. However, British and French Muslim pupils share their preference to learn more about Muslim culture since this would enhance theirs and other pupils' understanding and acceptance. They all want to be accepted as equals and not be seen as different by their fellow non-Muslim pupils. British and French Muslim pupils associate the definition of integration to that of assimilation.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available