In London a new primary school has opened – the Krishna-Avanti primary school. At present just taking 30 children the plan is by 2014 it will have 236 pupils and a nursery; by next year the school will be in its new £10 million site.
The school charter is based on the Hare Krishna movement, funded by the taxpayer, and located in Harrow where a quarter of the population that is Hindu live. Whether they will be teaching their sales technique for raising money is unclear. My concern for a faith school is the selective nature of education, and that it reinforces segregation in society.
Not least when you consider the broad mission statement:
The Krishna-Avanti School helps children realise their spiritual, moral and academic potential in a welcoming, secure and supportive environment centred about loving service to Lord Krishna. The school enables pupils to enjoy learning, to develop character and competence, and to prepare for secondary education and the responsibilities of adult life in contemporary Britain.
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain of Accord Colaition said:
Some parents will feel reassured by a school that shares their faith and cultural background, but everybody should be aware of the impact this may have – limiting their children from other cultures, and also depriving other community schools of Hindu participation.
Categorically the children are being classed as Hindu. While a poll suggested that Hinduism has the highest retention rate in the US from childhood to adulthood (over 80%), considering children’s identities as based on the faith of their parents is worrying because the child should be able to develop that identity for themselves.
That concern is followed by what the chair of governors at the school said:
By helping children to develop strong self-identities, the best faith schools also give children the confidence to play a full part in the wider community.
Which really means encouraging Hare Krishna faith so that it thrives in the community. This is not coincidental when clearly the purpose of the school existing is to educate children within a particular religious ethos.
Parents want schools that instil discipline, and give a good education. No loving parent would want less. However, separating children on the basis of parent’s faith is encouraging people developing in their own corner of the community. This is called multiculturalism – that with respect for people developing from cradle to grave in their own sub cultural diversity is enhanced, racial relations improved, respect and understanding are enhanced.
We cannot afford to take this myth at face value – it has not played out that well. Children growing up in their own neighbourhood, cut off from daily interactions with people that are different, do not aid social cohesion. Rather it builds entrenchment, people do not understand one another because they do not interact or grow up with each other. Without understanding people have misgivings on one another. It is a part of our human nature; the insider outsiders divide. It does not improve human relations in the long run – and if we value our kid’s futures encouraging segregation is not in their interests.
Comparative religious education, teaching children about humanity – it would be great to think all schools do these things well. Yet if we have learnt anything, categorising people on faith or ethnicity is not a recipe for making society harmonise or encouraging good race relations.
Comprehensive school means being in classes with children of Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, catholic and protestant children. Those interactions allowed me in time to compare my own culture and belief system. Everyone else seemed so sure of their faith and on the same level of reasoning that this was true – and that others were not only wrong but heading for damnation. It also encouraged me to learn firsthand about other people’s cultural backgrounds. It allowed me to question the views of people my parents age that had never gone school with children from that background.
Parents want the best. They think an education within a religious school will help their kids become moral upstanding members of their community. With a good education behind them, and encouraged to be involved with the community. Yet they have been brought up to think that community is with people of their own faith and ethnicity. That their self indentify is separate from people outside their own background.
The world is bigger than the background of faith – and failure to recognise and understand that is one reason where religion is one of those labels by which people ignore our common humanity. Whenever they can separate one another, demarcate one another. Growing up separate does not make people more homogenise. It makes the world smaller, the focus narrower – and the world’s problems that little bit bigger. As a taxpayer I do not want to finance an experiment that will narrow participation in the school system and legitimise segregation for children in the school system.
An education system that actually gives children a decent education no matter what their parents background or the location. State financed faith schools are not the answer to this problem – properly funded schools are. Deepening the social divisions in this country further with a widening religious divide in education is going to fracture society further. We need less, not more faith schools.