Dr. Inga Niehaus
Africa has about 80 so called independent Islamic schools. These
are private faith schools which are accredited by the state but
receive only a small subsidy from the government. They almost
entirely rely on school fees and donations to meet their financial
demands. Because of these circumstances most of these schools
are elite institutions where parents pay high fees and this inadvertently
limits attendance to pupils from middle and upper class families.
Islamic schools have a long history in South Africa dating back
to the 1920-1940s when many so called “Muslim Missonary
Schools” were founded by the Muslim community. Most of them
became so called state-aided schools and had the same status as
the Christian Missionary Schools which were funded by the government.
When the democratic government was elected in 1994, the former
state aided schools had to choose whether they became state schools
or whether they wanted to be independent. Most of the Islamic
schools opted for the latter status with the result that they
had to raise their own funds and introduce high school fees.
Islamic independent schools follow the secular curriculum for
public schools. In 1997 the Education Department introduced a
new education policy which is called OBE (Outcome Based Education).
This policy is aimed at promoting democratic citizenship education
and allows for a flexible and open curriculum: no particular textbooks
are prescribed and it is up to the individual teacher or school
how to teach certain subjects. This policy does favour independent
schools since it gives them the freedom and flexibility to teach
according to their values and particular ethos.
Together with the state curriculum, Islamic schools offer Islamic
Studies and Arabic. While the latter is acknowledged as an official
subject the former is voluntary.
Interviews with principals, teachers and pupils of various Muslim
schools show that the problems faced by Islamic schools are manifold:
Since the institutions are independent they often struggle to
meet the financial demands and have difficulties to find sponsors.
Furthermore, many schools face problems with regard to management.
There are often conflicts between the so called “Board of
Trustees” which consists of the founders and the sponsors
of the school who have a specific vision for the institution and
the principal who has t#o manage the day-to-day affairs. Tensions
also often arise over curriculum and teaching practice between
the religious teachers and the teachers who have a secular education.
While the former are often representing a particular religious
school of thought which is conservative, such as the Deobandi,
the latter are more open to modern teaching methods and liberal
world views. Regarding the implementation of the national curriculum,
many Islamic schools find it difficult to teach sex education
and HIV-AIDS education, physical education for girls and the theory
of evolution which, according to them, violates against Islamic
values and beliefs. Lastly, Islamic schools often struggle with
discipline problems regarding the pupils. Not all learners accept
the Islamic code of conduct of the school. Often the Islamic rules
at school do not correspond with the attitudes and life styles
of the learner’s parents leading to a dichotomy of what
they learn and observe at school and what they experience at home.
School profile: Islamia College, Cape Town
One of the Islamic independent schools which are included in
the empirical study is Islamia College in Cape Town. The school
was established in 1984, at a time when the resistance to the
apartheid system was at a peak and teachers and pupils nationwide
were organising school boycotts and education was practically
not happening. The reasons for founding the school were mainly
practical: to secure excellent education for Muslim children in
an Islamic environment. The idea was to provide Muslim children
with an education based on Islamic norms and values and to protect
them from influences within the wider society which were regarded
to be immoral. Furthermore, an Islamic school allowed the children
to be educated at a school were they were not discriminated against
because of their beliefs and where they were part of a larger
Today the school has over 1000 pupils and 70 teachers and, in
terms of standard and Matric results, it is regarded to be among
the best schools in the city. It has a Primary School and two
High Schools (one for boys and one for girls) and its own mosque
where pupils and teachers pray together. The school offers the
national curriculum and, additionally, Islamic Studies and Arabic.
Islamia College follows a holistic approach of Islamic education
stating that among its objectives is to instil in pupils “a
consciousness of Allah as the source of intellectual, emotional,
spiritual and physical growth”. Like most Islamic schools,
Islamia College pursues the ideal of “Islamisation of knowledge”
by bringing religion into secular subjects. However, this seems
to be a difficult undertaking. According to the founder of the
school, Maulana Ali Adam, Islamia College has not yet achieved
its goal to introduce Islam into secular subjects. Until now it
is still up to the individual teacher to link certain topics of
secular subjects to religious text from the Koran and the Sunna.
improve the quality of teaching and realise its goal to “islamise”
the secular curriculum, Islamia College has joined an international
research organisation called International Board of Educational
Research and Resources (IBERR). The London based organisation
is supporting Islamic schools mainly in England, South Africa
and USA with school management, staff development and curriculum
research. Since Maulana Ali Adam is one of the trustees of IBERR,
a large part of the research and the publication of material is
taking place in South Africa.
Locally, the school is well-integrated with the community, taking
part in inter-school sports events and competitions, community
activities and organising regular open days, a Children’s
day and food parcels which are given to the poor and needy during