“CAABU”: Challenges to the image of Arabs in British Schools
By Iyad Hamid
The Arab image in Britain is a controversial issue at large, and it certainly has made its way into British schools, causing a number of cases of assault against children of immigrants or Britons of Arab descent. This issue is not limited to educational institutions, for you will find that it is widespread in British society as a whole. In a 2017 poll, the majority of respondents supported security measures based on ethnic background, on the assumption that certain races are more likely to commit crimes.
At the time, the poll showed that only 28% of Britons saw immigration from Arab countries as beneficial for Britain, while 64% indicated that Arabs had failed to integrate. It also uncovered negative opinions among the British on a number of issues related to Arabs, including the number of refugees coming to Britain from Syria and Iraq.
That is why different organizations are now campaigning to improve the British public’s understanding of the Arab world and the issues of the Middle East, on of which is the Council for Arab-British Understanding, also known as “CAABU “.
“The level of knowledge concerning the Arab world in Britain is very weak, and that is reflected in its schools,” the director of CAABU Chris Doyle told “Al-Araby Al-Jadeed”. “In an opinion poll conducted by YouGov in 2017, around 72% of the respondents said that Iran is an Arab country. Even more surprising, 48% believed that Afghanistan is also an Arab country. As for Turkey, it was chosen as the third most preferred country to visit in the Arab world, although it is not part of the region,” said Doyle.
“CAABU has been encouraging positive engagement with the Arab world and British Arab communities in British schools for more than 50 years,” he added. “Since the majority of people in Britain have a limited understanding of the Arab world, its people, its culture and its history, working with young people is the most important contribution we can make.
“It also comes at a time when research is uncovering serious issues regarding attitudes towards Muslims, Arabs and Islam in general, including the rise in reported hate crimes. In 2015, attacks against Muslims increased by 326 percent in Britain, one in ten of which takes place in educational institutions.”
CAABU has an educational program that engages with British schools regarding the Arab world and Arab communities in Britain using a constructive approach. This program works on holding workshops and panel discussions to support teachers and discuss sensitive topics related to the Arab world.
Additionally, CAABU advertises its activities in British schools, and assists educational institutions through hosting speakers familiar with the region who conduct discussions with students attending these schools on a number of contentious issues. These topics include Arab stereotypes, the Middle East, the Palestinian cause, the Arab Spring, the Syrian refugee crisis, and more.
The council’s educational project targets students between the ages 16-18 in secondary education. “They do not know much about the region, and often leave school without knowing the difference between the different ethnicities and religions in the Middle East,” said Doyle. “If adults don’t know that much, then teens can’t be blamed.”
CAABU also reaches out to teachers whose knowledge of Arab world issues is often limited, and who therefore “welcome such sessions”. Especially since the national curricula does not cover such topics. “Many schools, teachers and students have contacted CAABU due to the above leading to hate crimes, or because they want to learn or interact with refugees,” he says. “We have also seen an increase in the number of applications coming from primary schools, which we want to respond to.”
CAABU offers schoolchildren the opportunity to gain insights into the region in a way that encourages discussion and welcomes questions about the media’s approach in the Middle East, especially its coverage during sensitive periods in the region.
The goal of the project is not only to correct misconceptions among students, but to also encourage them to do their own research and educate themselves, all while providing them with the tools that help them to go beyond what is written in headlines.
Using an example of the tragedy of Syrian refugees, Doyle says: “The project urges students to engage with the plight of the Syrian refugees in ways that go beyond the media coverage of the topic,” adding that “the refugees are not mere news, so the students are asked to put themselves in the shoes of the Syrian refugees. The goal is to give them the tools to think, not to become experts on the matter.”
“The aim of the seminars and workshops is not only to explain topics related to the main issues, but also to encourage students to reflect on them and read beyond the headlines, preparing them for the upcoming years. Speakers are encouraged to engage, ask questions and give comments as part of a lively dialogue on the most controversial issues facing Britain today, and it is essential that speakers do not pass judgment on students’ opinions or deter them from the discussion.”
The program has been received well in many schools across the UK, and further financial support for the project will help expand the scope of its activities, according to Doyle. Nonetheless, the levels of engagement and knowledge do vary between British schools from region to region. It is easy to reach out to schools in and around London, but the study program covers other cities as well, such as Bath and Derby.
“You find different degrees of knowledge regarding the region,” says Doyle. “For example, London is a more ethnically mixed city, so the debate in its schools is generally more profound, and quite different in nature from more homogeneous areas. There is also a level of discrepancy between public and private schools. Some private schools provide more activities for their students, so their knowledge tend to be more comprehensive.”
Source: Al-Araby Al-Jadeed
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