The Qatar Foundation International (QFI) granted $100,000 to a Texas school district to promote Arabic language and culture classes that begin next school year. This marks the third school district in Texas to accept funds from the Qatari non-profit’s global gift-giving arm.
The Austin Independent School District accepted the $100,000 from QFI to jump start new Arabic language and culture classes coming to three of its campuses in Fall 2016. The grant funds teacher salaries, curriculum development, instructional materials and unnamed resources.
Also, the University of Texas at Austin’s Arabic Flagship Program supports Austin ISD’s new Arabic classes. UT-Austin is one of four federally funded Arabic flagship college campus programs nationwide. Other participating universities are in Arizona, Maryland, and Oklahoma. The program started in 2000.
The Flagship Language program says it strives to prepare students to enter college with a “measurable” second language skill and to “push the model” to the elementary level, calling it vital to “educate a citizenry prepared to address the nation’s well-being in the 21st century.” The language program currently boasts 27 Flagship centers that provide a pathway to professional-level proficiency in Arabic, Chinese, Hindi-Urdu, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Swahili, and Turkish.
In May, Austin ISD World Languages Coordinator Tina Dong called it paramount that the school district prepares students for college, career, and life by “equipping them with the skills needed to authentically interact with individuals from diverse cultures.” The school district folded the Arabic language and its culture among its clarion call. In a press release, Austin ISD described QFI as committed to providing skills “to enable K-12 students to be engaged global citizens through education.”
Last year, Breitbart Texas reported Al Jazeera creator Sheikh bin Al Thani, reputedly associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, created QFI. The organization gives to educational causes. In 2011, they partnered with the U.S. Department of Education’s Connect All Schools consortium “to connect every school in the U.S. with the world by 2016” digitally, which President Obama unveiled in his 2009 speech delivered from Cairo. QFI grants monies to over 20 U.S. schools in 10 states, reaching over 2,400 students.
According to QFI, their support comes with the intention to establish or expand Arabic and culture programs in K-12 public and public charter schools. In addition to Texas, benefitting schools are located in Arizona, California, Hawaii, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Utah, and the District of Columbia. QFI also funds programs in schools across the United Kingdom and in Brazil.
QFI Executive Director Maggie Mitchell Salem welcomed three Austin public schools in “joining our growing network of partner schools across the U.S., making it a total of 24 K-12 schools across the nation invested in Arabic language and Arab culture education in 2016.”
In 2015, QFI granted Houston ISD $75,000 to jump start its Arabic immersion magnet school, which Breitbart Texas reported. QFI also funded Austin suburb Pflugerville ISD’s Arabic secondary programs at two high schools.
Of the chosen Austin ISD campuses, Burnet Middle School already offers a signature College and Careers in a Global Society program. Austin High School has its Academy for Global Studies with an international focus, according to the press release. The third public school International High shares a campus with Eastside Memorial High, which will have access to the course.
“With the addition of languages deemed critical by the Department of State, we further cement our commitment to develop socially and civically engaged students who will emerge from our schools ready to make a difference,” said Dong.
Austin ISD contends the program will continue for as long as interest exists. However, they say they intend to grow the Arabic language and culture program to more advanced levels. In the fall, they will start by offering Arabic 1. District spokeswoman Tiffany Young estimated 55 students will enroll between the two high schools with 15 more students anticipated to attend the middle school class.
Breitbart Texas spoke to Young to learn more about the district’s Arabic language and culture program. She said it was driven by “need” but that need accounts for only 497 students in a district of 84,000, reflecting only 0.6 percent of the entire student population. Interestingly, even that number appears to be down from 675 in 2013-14 based on an Austin KEYE-TV (CBS) report. At the time, an influx of Iraqi and Syrian refugee students certainly created a need — for Arabic speaking tutors in Austin ISD classrooms.
Young told Breitbart Texas by email that the district’s Department of English Language Learners (ELL) data broke down demographic home languages in April 2016. Behind Arabic at 497 native speakers came Vietnamese with 294, and Korean with 118. She said the three languages “ranked 2nd, 3rd, and 6th, respectively, out of 89 total home languages reported by parents.”
Still, Spanish tops the list at exponentially greater numbers. Sixty percent or approximately 50,000 Austin ISD students are Hispanic. Only 26 percent are White, about 8 percent are Black, and the remaining school district diversity is clumped into a largely unspecified “other”category totalling around 7 percent or 5,648 students. It includes Asian/Pacific Islander. The district says 57 percent of students come from low-income families. ELL accounts for 28 percent.
By contrast, in 2011, Austin ISD reported 196 Arabic students. Vietnamese student speaker population that year was 403. Korean had 144, and Mandarin, 83. Native Spanish speakers accounted for 30,000 students.
Breitbart Texas inquired on the impetus behind pursuing a QFI grant. Young noted that Dong was aware of the UT-Austin Arabic Flagship Program. She also said principals at the three schools expressed an interest in the Arabic language and culture class based on the “high number of Arabic-speaking students.”
Despite the assertion of a large population of native Arabic speaking students driving the demand, this demographic was not necesarily factored in as a category in the recently released Austin ISD annual demographic study based on Fall 2015 data. The report mainly forecasted 10-year projections of Hispanic, Black, White, and Asian ethnicities.
Breitbart Texas also asked Young about what Islamic culture will be taught in these Arabic classes. She said “Unfortunately, it is too early to provide examples because the curriculum will not be developed until the summer.”
By way of example, Young pointed out the district’s “Korean enrichment course already in place at Travis High School includes cultural topics such as traditional dress worn by men and women, as well as Korean food traditions.”
She said teachers of these new Arabic courses will work with the coordinator for three weeks this summer to develop thematic units of instruction alighted with the state standards for Languages Other Than English (LOTE).
Young added: “Culture is a major goal area in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for LOTE instruction. When studying culture, the expectation in the classroom, regardless of the language, is that students explore the products and the practices of the target culture.”
She continued, “Most importantly, student expectations include the ability to relate these products and practices to their underlying perspectives. In so doing, students are able to access higher order thinking skills as well as gain a deeper understanding of that culture being studied. An example of a product of culture would be French fashion. An example of a practice would be German board games. Students are expected to evaluate the perspectives that underscore why French fashion and German board games are important to the culture of that group.”
Austin ISD will also expand its World Languages program to include Korean and Vietnamese language and culture programs. They already offer Chinese, Japanese, Latin, American Sign Language, French, German, Spanish, and Spanish for Spanish Speakers.
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.