Managing religious and linguistic diversity: a comparative study of North African schools

Hania Sobhy


This project comparatively examines the social organization of difference in urban schools in different North African contexts, especially as they relate to religious diversity and language policies. Unlike monarchical Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia are two republics that have undergone major popular uprising in recent years, although only Tunisia has been able to shed its autocratic past. Schools and textbooks in all three contexts however are key arenas of conflict around religious difference in varying intensities and constant negotiations of secularism, traditionalism and Islamism. Language policy also plays out differently with accommodation of minority languages like Berber, different approaches to the legacy of instruction in French in Morocco and Tunisia, and also shared dilemmas of instruction in Modern Standard Arabic in light of divergent local dialects. The project situates the organization of religious and linguistic diversity in schools in the configurations of wider historical, political and social context in each case study. It is concerned with how textbooks and relevant education policies represent and address issues of diversity and difference. Critically, it examines the encounters and experiences of various education stakeholders (officials, teachers, students) with issues of religious and linguistic difference in everyday relations in schools. The project has a policy-relevant aspect insofar as it seeks to draw lessons about the organization of difference, the promotion of equal citizenship and the production of more equitable educational outcomes for young people in the region. This includes school and textbook reforms that foster more inclusive citizenship and temper extremist and discriminatory tendencies.

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