In Brazil, Teaching the Koran in the Original
By Isaura Daniel
In the corridors of the Brazilian Islamic School, in the Vila Carrão neighborhood in the city of São Paulo, it is possible to see children and teenagers talking in Arabic during their breaks. Here, topics such as grammar rules, dictations, text comprehension and essays aren't only for the Portuguese teachers.
The school, which has about 400 pupils, of which almost 300 are Muslims, teaches Arabic from kindergarten to the third year of high school.
"The Arabic and religion classes are directed to the Muslim pupils, but the other students may also participate in the classes if they like," explains sheikh Mohamad Amame, teaching coordinator in both subjects.
To the non-Muslims, however, the school offers Spanish, philosophy and computing classes, while their peers are taking Arabic lessons.
The language was already taught in the school, but it became part of the curriculum last year. The pupils in the junior school have four Arabic classes every week, and those in high school take 2 hours. In pre-school, half of the school day is dedicated to Arabic and religion subjects.
In the same way as the Islamic School in Vila Carrão, there are a series of other schools in the country that teach Arabic to their pupils. Most of them are connected in some way to the Muslim religion. The Brazilian Islamic School, for example, is kept by the São Paulo Muslim Beneficent Society.
The Barão de Mauá Teaching Institute, from the city of São Bernardo in the state of São Paulo, will also start teaching the language in 2005. The classes will be coordinated by the São Bernardo Islamic Society.
But, in this case, they will be administered as an extra-curricular activity to the pupils interested in learning.
In the Brazilian Islamic School, the language is taught by eight teachers, all of them born in countries in the Middle East or North Africa.
"They are Arabs living in Brazil," explains the sheikh. The school does not bring teachers directly from the Arab countries, but every year they hire professionals from the region to train the professors and evaluate the work carried out by the school.
To Read the Koran
The sheikh says that many non-Islamic pupils are interested in learning Arabic. Those who are descendants and practice at home, however, find it easier to learn.
"Those who have Arab parents normally come to school with some notion of the language, but those who have an Arab father and Brazilian mother find it harder," says Amame.
One of the difficulties in learning, according to the sheikh, is the lack of places to practice the language, a problem that is minimized for the students who speak Arabic at home.
Those who are of the Islamic religion and follow the Koran readings in the mosques also find it easier to learn. Teaching Arabic in the schools is directly related to teaching religion, since, depending on how fluent the class is, Islamism classes are taught in Arabic.
The sheikh says one of the benefits of learning Arabic is precisely to have a greater understanding of the Muslim religion.
"Those who want to go deeper into the Muslim religion have to know Arabic," he states. Even though there are translations into Portuguese, most of the Koran editions available in the market are in Arabic.
Amame states that knowledge of the language is also useful when families decide to go back to their countries of origin.
"Many times the families decide to go back (to the Arab countries) because of their businesses. If the child can speak Arabic it will be easier to follow school over there," he explains.
According to the sheikh, the teaching material used in the school is the same as the material used in the Arab region.
Foz do Iguaçu
At the Arab Brazilian School, in Foz do Iguaçu, city in the state of Paraná in the southern region of Brazil, where the pupils are sons of Arabs or descendants, it is also common that they go back with their families to the country of origin, or go travelling to the region to visit relatives, according to the headmaster, Sandra Spangoni.
This school also has Arabic in their program. "The parents are intent that their children learn how to speak Arabic," says Sandra.
The school has about 300 pupils and all of them have in between six and seven hours of Arabic classes per week. The Arab Brazilian School, which is a private school and exists since 1998, goes from pre-school to the seventh grade of junior school.
In the Barão de Mauá Teaching Institute, about 100 students should start taking Arabic classes as of next year, according to information from the São Bernardo Islamic Society.
They will have one hour and a half every day in the morning. Pupils of the school, as of three years of age, will be able to participate in the classes. The Institute teaches from pre-school to high school.
Brazilian Islamic School
Arab Brazilian School
Barão de Mauá Teaching Institute