SHAFAQNA – The Nordic nation of Finland has been found to be suffering from a dramatic lack of Islam teachers for its growing Muslim population. Although there seems to be no shortage of candidates with immigrant-backgrounds, their poor Finnish language skills still remains the largest barrier.
At present, Finland has only about two dozen Islam teachers for its Muslim student population, which numbers 9,000 students.
Education officials explain the lack of teachers to instruct primary school students in the fundamentals of Islam by noting that immigrants who would like to teach Islam to fellow Muslims are most often struggling to pass university entrance exams themselves, and thus lack the formal qualifications to become teachers.
“Language skills are a major issue. People who speak languages other than Finnish have difficulty getting into teacher training. This means that the number of teachers is growing more slowly than the number of students,” Pekka Iivonen, a counsellor with the National Agency for Education told Finnish national broadcaster Yle.
According to Finnish law, a teacher is not required to profess a religion about which he or she chooses to teach. Nevertheless, Finland’s growing Muslim diaspora has a negative attitude towards the fact that an “unbeliever” would teach the Quran to children.
However, according to Suaad Onniselka, a Finnish convert who teaches Islam as a subject at Vesala upper secondary school in Helsinki, competence is more important than belief when it comes to teaching about the religion. Onniselka ventured that the quality of teaching would suffer regardless of whether a school picked a pedagogically unskilled immigrant or a native Finn lacking in religious fervor to teach the class.
“For instance, you could have a religion teacher droning on about the benefits of atheism. On the other hand, people coming from outside the Finnish school system may have beliefs based on their individual childhood rather than school curriculum,” Suaad Onniselka said.
Onniselka also stressed the importance of teaching Islam and other religions, venturing that Finnish society was in need of academic knowledge about various faiths. Her student Najmo Mohamed, who attends Vesala upper secondary school, suggested that Islam was needed for Muslims, the media and a broader Finnish society which, according to him was “largely ignorant” about Islam.
Once you utter the word ‘terrorist,’ the first thing that comes to mind is Muslims, as if Islam were the reason, Najmo Mohamed said, citing other motives such as health problems, loneliness or revenge. According to Mohamed, teaching about Islam could weaken anti-Islam attitudes.
At present, Finland has a Muslim population of 65,000. Their number expected to grow to190,000 (or 3.5 percent of the population) by 2050.
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