Muslim schools resist Anti-Radicalisation program In Australia
Principals at several Muslim schools in Sydney have rejected overtures to introduce a NSW government-backed deradicalisation program, raising further doubts about the effectiveness of the multi-million-dollar initiative.
Revelations that Punchbowl Boys High School had resisted the School Communities Working Together program, along with fresh claims that students as young as 10 at Punchbowl Public School were showing signs of extremist ideology, have highlighted the importance of the program, which the state government has admitted is in need of review.
Jan Ali, a University of Sydney terrorism expert and member of the Premier’s expert advisory council on countering violent extremism, said he knew of two principals in Sydney Islamic schools who were “totally against its introduction”.
“The program assumes that there is a problem within the school, often without any empirical evidence,” Dr Ali said.
“I don’t think that any research went into what principals or teachers think about this sort of program in schools and whether it’s worthwhile or not.
“There is a perception in the Muslim community that this is a program that has been developed in the absence of co-operation or extensive consultation with the schools, particularly Muslim schools.”
The program was part of a $47 million counter-terrorism initiative unveiled by former premier Mike Baird in November 2015, largely in response the Parramatta terrorist attack in which police worker Curtis Cheng was shot and killed by a radicalised teenager.
So far 19 schools have taken up the program, which provides resources and training for schools, teachers and parents to help them identify young people at risk of radicalisation and help them access support services.
The Education Department has declined to identify the schools already involved, but a spokesman said a collaborative approach had been taken designing the program, with involvement from schools, government agencies, parent representative bodies, academics and community groups.
While denying that a formal review was on the cards, Education Minister Rob Stokes said he was open to looking at the program, and taking advice on how it is working and what can be done to encourage more schools to take it up.
His comments followed the removal of Punchbowl Boys High principal Chris Griffiths and deputy Joumana Dennaoui from the school earlier this month in light of the school’s refusal to implement the program.
The department declined to confirm whether schools, other than Punchbowl, had been resistant to the program.
The department and police are understood to have had concerns that students within the school, which has a large Muslim population, posed a serious risk of radicalisation.
But Mr Griffiths was opposed to the program, believing that it could potentially destabilise the school community.
Dr Ali said a review of the program was a positive step, arguing that the program needed to be broadly acceptable to schools and their communities — which were ultimately parents — if it was to have a chance of being effective.
“Parents want to know how they can keep their children a safe distance from radicalisation and how they can ensure …. children or pockets of deviancy are managed and do not spiral out of control,” Dr Ali said.