Case Study No.7

The girl with the hijab

Cyprus

Enoros Consulting Ltd

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Key words

Bullying, xenophobia, racism, stereotypes, barriers, conflicts, religion, education, school, teachers

School involved

School education

Detailed description of the situation

Elmira was born in 2001 in Cyprus and she was living in Nicosia with her parents. At the age of 5, she went to Syria with them and returned to Cyprus in 2011 because of the war happening in Syria back then. Now, she is 12 years old and she is attending a primary school in Nicosia.

On September, 2019, she was expelled from school by the school director because, he said, Elmira was wearing a hijab. The incident had enormous reactions in the public of Cyprus hearing that a school director asked a female migrant student to walk out of the school and remove her headscarf before coming back. More specifically, the director of the school said that his school was “not a place for Taliban sympathizers or nuns”

Elmira had attended the same school in the two previous years, while according to some of her classmates, she never got into trouble because of her attire or her religion. But the school principal said that he was simply following the rules. “I only told her to remove anything she had on her head; I have no problem with her religion whatever that may be. I acted based on the rules set by the Education ministry, which call for students to leave their heads uncovered”. 

At the same time, the superintendent of secondary education said that there were no such rules. “Our schools are multicultural and school principals were not given any instructions to discriminate against students based on school dress code”. The father of the student went to the school where the school director told him that if he had a complaint, he could take it up with the ministry.

After this unfortunate incident at school, Elmira and her father went to meet the Minister of Education and Culture after his invitation in his office along with the presence also of the school director. 

Elmira reclaimed her right to wear hijab and the school director was removed from his position as he was expelled by the Ministry due to his bad behaviour against a migrant student. At the same time, the other students were ready to protest and support their classmate

Elmira, who told media she was stunned and hurt over the incident, was initially thinking about changing schools. But Education Minister told media that a change of schools for the Cypriot-born Syrian refugee was out of the question. After the meeting with the Minister, the school director apologized to Elmira and the student replied she would go to her school again. 

As Elmira and her father were deeply concerned over whether she would be allowed to enter school premises or whether the school director would still ask her to remove the hijab, organized groups in Cyprus, kept calling the Minister for action that would include blocking the school director from entering again his school. 

The Minister announced another school director for the school (for the replacement of the school director) and the issue had stirred up controversy with users on social media debating pros and cons of the transfer decision but also the initial request by the school director to ban the student. Reports said that the school director had also pestered other students for wearing crosses and other items that he had taken to be violations of the dress code.

The Minister said regulations allow female students to wear the hijab under certain circumstances, essentially contradicting the existence of a ban due to dress code issues.

What was wrong in the initial reaction? What would you do?

Share your ideas and suggestions on TEACHmi online Forum!

Here are few questions for self-reflection:

  • Have you ever experienced something similar?

  • How would you react in the same situation?

  • What could teachers do to prevent similar happenings?

  • What could you do to improve acceptance of and openness to other cultural symbols?

Initial reaction

Unacceptable behavior in a school in Cyprus where incidents of bullying and discrimination in general are very few. An internal investigation for the bad behavior of the school director was launched. 

Suggested solution

  • Training to teachers on how to help the migrant student integrate more effectively in their schools.

  • The Ministry of Education adopted policies for the Implementation of a reception phase for the educational inclusion of students with migrant background in schools in Cyprus. 

  • Training to teachers and students for empathy, compassion, respect to foreigners & multiculturism.

  • Monthly trainings or workshops for students and teachers for social inclusion and integration or/and Intercultural local events to raise awareness about integration and social inclusion of migrants. 

  • Interview with teachers to examine their beliefs and how they can help the students, set a code of conduct for teachers.

  • Eliminate negative beliefs and stereotypes in schools. 

  • Organize multicultural and social school events. 

  • Create a guide for teachers to prevent discrimination, bullying or xenophobia.

Why is this case-study relevant?

The incident with Elmira is a clear incident of bullying/discrimination of migrant students that face inequality in their schools and in everyday life and it is an example to reflect and find solutions for better integration of migrant students in their schools but also to find a way to train first the teachers to help towards this integration.