Concern over requirement to study Koran as part of Leaving Cert Arabic exam

A Syrian parent's complaint over religious content will form part of wider review of syllabus

A requirement that all students who sit the Arabic exam in the Leaving Cert must study the Koran is to be reviewed by education authorities.

Ever since the subject was introduced to the Leaving Cert in 2004, extracts from the “Holy Koran” have been prescribed material for all candidates.

However, a Syrian father whose Christian daughter is due to sit the exam says the requirement is unfair for students and discriminatory.

“She, as a Christian, has never studied the Koran,” said Marwan, who asked that his surname not be used.

"I am very distressed that having arrived in Ireland and having been granted refugee status on the basis of the threat to us as Christians we should now be discriminated against in this way.

He added: “Since my daughter’s exam is only weeks away I would respectfully appeal to those in a position to rectify this injustice to do so immediately.”

In a statement, the State body for development subject material, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), said the Koran was included on the basis of its linguistic and literary value and not because of its association with religion.

It said the requirement for questions based on the Koran are explicitly stated in the syllabus.

In the Arabic exam, candidates are presented with three texts: an extract from the Koran, a portion of Arabic verse and an extract from a work of modern Arabic prose.

The questions related to the Koran are mandatory for all candidates, while candidates may choose from a portion of verse and modern prose.

The NCCA said the syllabus is being reviewed and this will consider the “range and sources” of prescribed texts.

This includes concerns over the mandatory status of questions relating to Koran.

Eight separate sections of the Koran are identified as prescribed texts in the exam.

One of the sections urges, for example, says followers should “remember Allah’s favour on you when you were enemies of each other” and that “while you were on a brink of a pit of Fire then He delivered from it!.”

It goes on to advise believers to “be not like those who separated, and disagreed after clear evidences had come to them; and these are they that will have a grievous chastisement.”

About 55,000 students sit the Leaving Cert each year, while between 100 and 150 students undertake the Arabic exam.

In common with other minority languages, the proportion of students who receive honours in the exam - about 85 per cent - is particularly high. This, say teachers, is due to the number of students who are native speakers.

The syllabus for the exams states it aims to demonstrate candidates’ understanding of the written language, an ability to express themselves correctly and demonstrate a control of grammatical structures.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent

Brian Mooney

Brian Mooney

Brian Mooney is a guidance counsellor and education columnist. He contributes education articles to The Irish Times