Once again, the Islamic holy month of Ramadan has fallen at the same time as the exam season in the UK. This year, the last week or so will fall when most schools are on half-term – which is perhaps fortunate – but many GCSEs and A levels are still scheduled to take place in the weeks before.
The ‘timetable clash’ between Ramadan and exams has occurred for a few years now and has caused much concern and debate. Some simply believe that the exam season should be rescheduled. Others look to the various interpretations and exemptions that exist of and during Ramadan, suggesting that Muslim pupils and parents should consider these carefully to ensure that young people sitting exams can balance the obligations of their faith with the need to succeed in their education.
Support must be given to pupils observing Ramadan
In past years, teaching unions have met with representatives of the Muslim community in Britain, including Imams and religious education leaders, to try to produce guidance to schools, parents and pupils. When such guidance has been published, it has never been intended to be ‘definitive’, but rather it has aimed to set out the various interpretations and approaches that might be taken.
Guidance has been designed to shape conversations instead of laying down rules to follow – and that has to be the approach to take. Ultimately, schools just need to ensure that they are supporting Muslim students in the best way possible during the period of Ramadan.
How does Ramadan affect exam performance?
On the face of it, Ramadan falling at the beginning of exam season doesn’t look like a great fit. The combination of longer days, fasting, potential dehydration and loss of concentration is neither ideal for revising for or sitting examinations. However, many Muslims would point to the spiritual benefits that are gained from observing Ramadan, and an inner strength – which could be highly beneficial or those going through the tough schedule of revising and exams
There is a balance to strike between pupils wanting to fulfil their religious obligations during Ramadan and wanting to do well in exams. Fasting is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, and therefore seen as a fundamental duty. However, a high importance is also placed on education – it is seen as a religious and moral duty too.
Essentially, schools need to help Muslim pupils to find that balance, rather than having to make a choice between the two obligations.
There is no simple answer or solution
Despite the various interpretations that might be taken about how best to observe Ramadan, it’s obvious that there is no single, or simple, answer or solution. Schools need to support pupils to find their own way. Obvious steps can be taken, such as using cooler classrooms and providing quiet spaces to rest. Similarly, in discussions with Muslim pupils, decisions about the best times to schedule revision sessions, for example, can be made.