A tweak in the British board exam schedule to accommodate Ramzan has triggered outrage

A tweak in the British board exam schedule to accommodate Ramzan has triggered outrage
Photo Credit: Luke Mac Gregor/Reuters
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An initiative by British examination boards to be more accommodating to Muslim school students has got the UK’s right-wing and religious groups up in arms.

The Joint Council for Qualifications, which represents the boards that organise the General Certificate of Secondary Examination and A-level examinations – the British equivalents of India’s Class 10 and Class 12 exams – had late on Wednesday said that many core tests had been scheduled for June and July to take into account the Muslim holy month of Ramzan.

The GCSEs and A-levels are to be held between May 16 and June 29, while Ramzan runs from June 6 to July 5.

During the holy period, Muslims are required to fast in the day and many do not even drink water from dawn to dusk. Some UK teachers had expressed concern about these practices affecting the performance of students, which eventually prompted examination boards to rejig the exam schedule.

Apart from scheduling examinations for key subjects before Ramzan, the board also proposed shifting exams to earlier in the day to lighten the burden on students who may be fasting.

The exam controller said it had consulted Muslim organisations before drawing up the timetable. But the move drew outrage from right-wing groups, which claimed that this reflected the “Islamisation” of a “Christian country”.

Colin Hart, director of The Christian Institute, a charity that represents 4,000 churches around the UK, was quoted by The Telegraph as saying:

[Exam boards] should let things be. What about students who have medical conditions? How can you start changing the rules for everybody just for those particular pupils who are Muslims, which is a minority.

It is wrong to impose a Ramadan time table on pupils who are not Muslims. We don’t live in Saudi Arabia where they need to fit the exams around sharia principles.

It’s wrong that imposing this festival on everybody else.

There were also screaming front-page headlines in the British tabloids:

Social media struck a similar tone on the matter:

Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats – a key coalition party in the previous British government – was among those who brought some sanity to the debate,

The outcry eventually forced the examination controllers to issue a clarification on Thursday:

There has been a clear misunderstanding in some parts of the media as to how the GCSE and A level timetable is set and the impact religious events, such as Ramadan, Easter and Passover, have on it. It is important to note that the timetable for 2016 was drafted over a year ago, is published, and won’t be changing.