Students at a primary school in London were banned from witnessing a once-in-a-generation eclipse that occurred on March 20 because of cultural and religious reasons, authorities said. Parents of these students, who attend North Primary School in Southall, said they were infuriated by the decision, as it allowed religious superstition to triumph over scientific education.
Phil Bellman, whose seven-year-old daughter was one among many others to miss the eclipse, met with Ivor Johnstone, the interim head teacher at North Primary School, who said authorities were unable to divulge details of the ban because of confidential reasons.
“It's just going back to the dark ages really. My child went in having spent an hour preparing and making up her pinhole camera,” said Bellman. “This is an issue about scientific matters versus religious superstition. I am outraged — is it going to be Darwin next? We will be like mid America. I asked the headteacher to elaborate which religions and which cultures? But he said it had to be confidential. He referred us to the formal complaints procedure. What is the head's future after all of this? I consider this totally unacceptable. I think he should be considering his position.”
Several parents voiced their concerns over the fact that they had not been informed about this arbitrary decision until the last minute.
Khairoe Islam, whose son goes to the same school, said, “I'm Muslim myself and in my religion it doesn't say we can't watch it. I don't know anything about it but if they say it's because of religion maybe they could have spoken to those people who had a problem and let the other kids enjoy it. It shouldn't be spoiled for the rest of the school.”
Harpreet Kaur, whose siblings go to the school, too said, “The school didn't say anything to us. They told the children it was for religious and cultural reasons and they were told they couldn't see it outside. I don't think it was made very clear, even to the teachers. A friend of mine who is a teacher at the school said she didn't understand it. I think it was quite a last-minute decision. It's a shame because even though it was cloudy there is still the excitement of going outside and having a look. There's quite a large Muslim community in the school and someone said it has something to do with that. I did some reading up on it but couldn't find anything. Maybe it's some obscure reason.”
Johnstone accepted that students in his school had been banned from witnessing the first solar eclipse of this century, after questions were raised about the cultural and religious aspects of observing such an event. It is still unclear who exactly voiced these concerns though some Christians believe the eclipse is a sign of the end of the world, as do some Hindus, who say the observer of such an eclipse becomes impure.
Johnstone also said:
“The school made this decision when we became aware of religious and cultural concerns associated with observing an eclipse directly. Although we are sorry for any disappointment, pupils were still able to watch the eclipse on screens in classrooms. However, the overcast conditions in West London today meant they would not have been able to see it live in any case.”
Mohammed Babar, whose five-year-old daughter Zahra is a student at the school, said
“There is no cultural reason that I am aware of. If that's what they said then it would surprise me.”
Ealing Council clarified that while students were disallowed from stepping out of their classrooms to witness the eclipse, they were allowed to watch it on television screens. A spokesperson for the council also said the incident is being investigated to determine whether the students had really been instructed not to watch the eclipse.
North Primary School, which is not a religious school, defines itself on its website as multicultural with a welcoming ethos.
“We are committed to an inclusive ethos based on the respect for and positive acknowledgement of ethnic, cultural and religious diversity. We strive to prepare all pupils for living in a multi-cultural, multi-faith and multi-ethnic society and are committed to promoting race equality in all dimensions of the school's life and community,” reads the non-denominational school’s cultural policy.
The school has a total number of 407 students, of whom 97 percent communicate in English. Located in Southall, commonly referred to as Little India because of the suburban’s large Hindu population, the school also has students who are members of refugee families or traveler families. The incident at North Primary School came to surface after news channels reported that students from across the country were forced to stay inside their classrooms during the eclipse and watch the event on television screens due to safety concerns. Clearly, the decision offended those parents, who wanted their children to witness the rare celestial event in person.
Oldway Primary School in Paignton, Devon, was one of the other schools that came under fire for prohibiting students from stepping outside their classrooms. Jane Smythe, head teacher at this school, said she had 700 students to take care of and did not know how else to guarantee that they would not look at the sun during the eclipse.
Isabel Stevenson, a mother-of-four from Glasgow, said:
“So not happy about secondary school my kids go to doing NOTHING for solar eclipse tomorrow! Livid and furious. I'm on a mission today.”
Photo Credits: Digital Times