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Academics and lecturers develop teaching material on Islam

A number of different course curricula were presented at a training conference on ‘Islam in the Class’ op 17 November. The course materials were developed by Leiden academics in collaboration with teachers involved in pre-university education.

Abbasidic caliphate
The medieval Abbasidic caliphate or centre of art, architecture and literature.

Read-made course material

The conference focused on packages of teaching materials on Islam-related subjects such as the Abbasidic caliphate, trading with caravans and dhows (traditional Arab board, see photo), Islam in the West, the Netherlands and the Ottoman Empire. Pairs of academics developed the teaching materials over the course of a number of months and presented them at the conference, where they were discussed by the participants. The materials will be made available shortly for those teachers who want to devote time to one of these subjects.   

Difficult discussions:  ‘It's a Zionist plot!'

One plenary workshop was on difficult discussions in class. What do you as a teacher say to a pupil who refuses to observe a minute's silence to mark an attack on the grounds that  'it's all a Zionist plot'?  It was clear from the discussions that many of the participants at the conference have had such experiences: a non-Muslim teacher, for instance, who feels uncomfortable talking about Islam, but also the only Muslim pupil in a class who, when he said that he could never go home and tell his family that he was homosexual, was berated by the whole class.

This inspirational workshop, led by Utrecht researcher Bjorn Wansink, sparked intensive discussions among the teachers and an exchange of ideas and tips on how to handle these testing situations. Do you keep things rational and ordered in the class and nip any nonsensical ideas in the bud, or is your aim to preserve the relationship with your pupils by letting them have their say?

Abdelkader Benali
Abdelkader Benali

Abdelkader Benali: ‘You all have experts in your class!’

Author Abdelkader Benali was the final speaker of the day. He gave an insight into the world as experienced by young Moroccans. History is always written by the visitor, he claimed, which is what makes it so exciting. But there are more winners' stories than just the ones that the Dutch recognise, and how should you deal with the people on the other side of the story, who may now be sitting in your class? 

Benali talked about his grandfather and his great uncles, some of whom, he learned, fought in Spain under Franco. 'They were exciting stories of real heroes, people who had played a part in world history!' That is, until he realised that Franco was a fascist - 'and that's something you do  not want to be associated with.' 

Another problem, Benali put forward, is that teachers sometimes teach on subjects that their students know more about than they do. ‘I grew up with the Middle Eastern conflict. What can a teacher tell me about that?' He has some sympathy with teachers:  'It's difficult if you have a group of experts in your class.' 

The training conference, opened by the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities Mark Rutger, was organised by the Leiden Islam Academy (LIA) in partnership with the Netherlands Association of Teachers of History (VGN). The conference was mainly aimed at practical matters, with workshops on teaching materials and difficult class discussions. 

Valorisation

The project on course material for secondary schools was developed by the Leiden Islam Academy, who are looking to broaden their collaboration with partners in society and academia. The VGN had indicated that secondary schools are in urgent need of teaching material on Islam-related topics, an isue that the current history curriculum focuses barely any attention on. And the teachers who are keen to have this material are often too busy to develop a complete lesson on their own on a subject that they themselves are not familiar with. 

A construction has been devised, in partnership with LIA, in which teachers and academics can share their expertise: academics have in-depth knowledge of the subject and know that material is available, and teachers know how knowledge and material suitable for secondary pupils can be incorporated into lessons.

LIA has brought together academics from Leiden, Amsterdam and Nijmegen for this project, and the VGN has raised the subject with fellow teachers. The intention is to develop a range of packages of course materials for different subjects, from history to religion or social affairs. 

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