Before moving to Qatar I was a teacher in the UK for 14 years. The school I taught in was located in South Yorkshire and about 35% of our pupils were Muslim. In the UK the school year finishes at the end of July and for the last few years Ramadan has fallen during the summer term. In 2014 I moved to Qatar and continued teaching. As part of this months Blogger Link Up I thought I’d write about how schools and teaching differ in the UK and Qatar when it comes to the Holy Month.
At my school in the UK the day started at 8.40am and finished at 3.10pm. These hours did not change during Ramadan so pupils still did a full school day including Muslim pupils who were fasting. Muslim pupils, including those fasting, took part in all lessons during Ramadan including Physical Education, music and cooking unless they had a note from their parents excusing them but this was quite rare. The majority of the Muslim pupils I taught during Ramadan cooked once a week and instead of eating with the class they took their food home with them to eat at Iftar or Suhour. The school canteen continued to be open during Ramadan and pupils and staff could eat and drink openly at break time, lunchtime and in class.
Provision was made for pupils who were fasting as we set up ‘Ramadan Rocks’ which was in a quiet area of school. Pupils and staff could go there at breaktime and lunchtime to relax, meet with friends and pray. It was not just for our Muslim pupils however, anybody could go – but no food / drink was allowed and it was supervised by Muslim and non-Muslim staff. There was no prayer room at our school so during Ramadan 2 classrooms were set aside where pupils could pray.
At State schools in the UK attendance is very closely monitored and schools come under great scrutiny for their absence rates. Pupils can not take holidays during term time and can actually be taken to court for doing so. Pupils were not allowed any absence during Ramadan even for ‘religious observation’ therefore I would say pretty much all our pupils were in school during Ramadan. Pupils were allowed 1 or 2 days off for Eid and this was recorded as ‘religious observation’.
Overall, I would say Ramadan had very little impact on me as a teacher in the UK despite working with many Muslim pupils and colleagues. I was aware that some pupils were fasting but I don’t think I understood the full concept of the Holy Month, its importance and the impact on pupils such as tiredness. I guess I was quite naive to the demands it placed on some of my pupils.
Ramadan in a school in Qatar
The first difference is that as soon as Ramadan starts our hours are reduced. Staff work 8am – 1pm and pupils 8.30am – 1pm. A large percentage of our Muslim pupils do not come into school during Ramadan and this is recorded as religious observation and is allowed. As our normal curriculum lessons continue to take place in school some Muslim pupils who know they will be absent will ask for work to do at home. Some pupils chose to work with private tutors around their schedule so they do not fall behind with their studies.
Our whole school end of year exams for pupils in Year 7 – Year 12 took place at the end of May and at the moment the public iGCSE and A Level exams are taking place during Ramadan. Pupils can take a drink into the exam room with them and, if requested, Muslim pupils can been seated at the front of the exam hall so they don’t see pupils drinking. According to some scholars Muslims sitting exams during Ramadan can be given special consideration and are allowed to drink as its considered linked to their future success, as Islam is a religion of knowledge and enlightenment.
As school is a public place eating and drinking is not allowed. The canteen is the only room in which pupils can eat and drink at break time, our canteen does not serve any food or drink so pupils bring everything from home. Staff can eat and drink in the staffroom only (no cups of tea or bottles of water on our desks which is hard when you talk for the majority of your day!). We have male and female prayer rooms throughout the school and pupils can leave their lesson at 11.30am to pray if they wish.
All of our Muslim staff and some of our Muslim pupils who are fasting are attending school as normal and this is challenging for them as many of them have been up late. In this heat and dust teaching and studying whilst tired and fasting must be difficult.
Teaching in a Muslim country during Ramadan has given me much more of an insight into the Holy Month and what is means to my Muslim colleagues, pupils and friends. It has deepened my understanding and knowledge of Islam and although I haven’t fasted myself this year I am considering challenging myself next year!