Qatar is spending £400,000 to promote the teaching of Arabic language and culture in British classrooms, according to reports.
The Qatar Foundation International (QFI) — a nonprofit founded by Qatari royal and Al Jazeera creator Sheikh bin Al Thani — is donating the money to a British Council initiative aimed at increasing the number of UK schools which offer Arabic as a foreign language.
According to The Times, £70,000 of the cash gift will be spent opening Arabic language and culture programmes at nine schools in Britain, four of which are in Northern Ireland, three in Essex, one in Cardiff, and one in Bradford.
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Carine Allaf, director of programmes at QFI, said: “The Arabic language and Arab culture programme will ensure hundreds more students at schools across the UK are equipped with the 21st century skills they will need to participate in a more global future.”
While the number of entries for GCSE Arabic rose from 3,780 in 2015 to 4,211 in 2016, the language — which a British Council report said would become “the second most vital” for the UK in the next two decades — is taught at one per cent of schools.
Schools advisor at the council, Vicky Gough, said: “It is important that many more young people are given the opportunity to learn this language.”
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Kevin Lambe, principal of Shimna Integrated College, in Belfast, said: “We’ve seen huge benefits from teaching Arabic, not just for long-term employment and business opportunities, but mainly around cultural integration and understanding.”
A British Council report into the teaching of Arabic culture and language in British schools found it “enjoys strong support” among Muslims in Britain, with pupils from Muslim backgrounds “all very strongly motivated” to study a language they see as “providing access to the global Islamic community” — something they view as “important socially, culturally and economically”.
“However, non-Muslim parents clearly would not share these motivations and the head teachers of schools I visited felt that it might be quite difficult to convince non-Muslim parents of the benefits of learning Arabic,” it notes.
While it was suggested that the introduction of Arabic culture and language classes to children of all faiths “was an important way of breaking down prejudice and misconceptions”, the report said: “Islamophobia and negative portrayal of Arabic speakers in the media is seen as a barrier to introducing the language more widely.”
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