SOAS students’ vision of alternative education to combat prejudice in Camden schools

Mayor of Camden Cllr Lazzaro Pietragnoli talks with students from SOAS (from left) Farisha Khan, Lat

Mayor of Camden Cllr Lazzaro Pietragnoli talks with students from SOAS (from left) Farisha Khan, Lateef Saka, Mohammad Mehmood, Musrat Daud, and Juhi Verma. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

A group of students rolling out a social action project in schools have received crucial backing from the Mayor of Camden.

The students, who attend The School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS), presented their educational initiative to mayor Cllr Lazzaro Pietragnoli and Cllr Georgia Gould, in a special event organised by the Three Faiths Forum (3FF) at Camden Town Hall on Thursday.

Having had only half a day to prepare, the team from SOAS presented their “Alternative Education” initiative, aimed at introducing a fun and interactive programme of cultural awareness for 16- to 18-year-olds across several Camden schools to help overcome prejudice.

The group hope to reduce ignorance around issues of race and religion at an early stage.

Media and development student Musrat Daud, 30, summed up the group’s message saying: “To have a single perspective is to have a failed perspective.”

Each of the students from SOAS brought their own personal experiences to the project.

Ms Daud recalled what happened to her in the wake of Lee Rigby’s murder in May last year.

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She said: “I was boarding a bus, just going home and I sat next to this four-year-old kid, and she just got up and said ‘I’m not going to sit next to these people’.

“I wasn’t angry or anything, I’ve had to learn to ignore it.

“But what I found the most shocking was that she was only four years old and already had this huge bias.”

History student Juhi Verma, 19, said: “It’s not just about us learning about and understanding our culture, but it’s about others understanding too to reduce the ignorance that society still holds, and obviously that leads to much bigger issues like racism.”

History and politics student Lateef Saka, 21, recounted his own disrupted time in sixth form until a member of SOAS came to give a talk at his school.

“When I first entered sixth form, I was the naughtiest kid ever, I got suspended from school and I barely went to anything,” he said.

“I then had this opportunity for someone who went to SOAS to come in and speak about a subject like the exploitation of Africa.

“Learning something new actually helped me have a massive turnaround, and decide I want a career in this area.”

A driving part of the group’s stance on education was the ability of pupil’s to choose.

“We want to give children the chance to learn about their culture, their civilisation, their history and not just restrict their education to someone else’s type of history or culture,” said Mr Saka.

Also in the SOAS group were Farisha Khan and Mohammad Mehmood.

The group have until April 2015 to work on their project and it is hoped it will be implemented in Camden schools from February 2015.

The Three Faiths Forum will provide a budget of £250 and any additional funding must be raised by the students themselves.