Middlesex, UK: Kingsley Hargoeavies, an 11 grade Catholic student, is on his knees as he sifts through some of the sacred hymns composed by Sikhism founder Guru Nanak Dev.
More kids — Safina Qureshi, a grade six student, and her sibling Zain Qureshi — both of whom come from Islamic families, are meditating with their Sikh friend Harjinder Pal Singh inside one of the large halls of Guru Nanak Sikh Academy in Hayes in Middlesex.
These students are part of the UK’s first state funded Sikh secondary school that was inaugurated in 1993 by then British home secretary Jack Straw and went to attain the same status of an “academy” as Roman Catholic and Anglican Church schools in the state sector.
Nearly 20 years later, UK government has now officially announced opening of 15 similar new “faith schools”, including eight Sikh schools. The objective is to arrest the problem of racism and intolerance for other religions.
The plan, as part of 102 new “free schools”, which are to be opened from 2014 and beyond, was approved in July this year by UK education secretary Michael Gove.
Free schools in the UK are run by teachers rather than a local or central government authority and have the freedom to decide the length of the school day and term, the curriculum, and how they reward their teachers and spend their money.
“In cosmopolitan countries like the UK, where you have a big number of Sikhs, Buddhists from China or Shinto Japanese, the objective is to strengthen bonds between home, community and school and providing a preparation for each pupil’s entry into the wider community. This is where faith schools are the next big future of our society,” said British Indian MP Paul Uppal, who opened a similar Sikh ethos school in his constituency Wolverhampton.
According to a 2011 ‘Race for Equality’ report by National Union for Students (NUS), a confederation of 600 students’ unions, amounting to more than 95% of all higher and further education unions in the UK, showed that 1 in 6 Black students have experienced racism in their current institution.
Such is the growing popularity of faith schools that one Nishkam School in Houslow in West London due to open in September had received nearly four applications for each seat.
The Nishkam School Trust, which already runs a primary school in Birmingham, claims the Hounslow School will be the UK’s first ‘all-round’ faith school, catering to pupils from the age of four to 18.
These schools are also aimed at providing community elders such as grandparents to share their skills in sewing, cooking and storytelling with the kids of single working parents.
“The purpose is to bring back diminishing respect for family values. Of course, we will teach the national curriculum but there will be an emphasis on compassion and family life, which are not so cool values any more,” says Rajinder Sandhu, principal, Guru Nanak Sikh Academy.