A teacher gestures during an Arabic language class for young children at the Institut Lissane private school in Le Kremlin-Bicetre on the outskirts of Paris.
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Welcome to Lissane, one of a growing number of private language schools where the children and grandchildren of North African immigrants attend in order to learn classical Arabic on Wednesday afternoons, when schools are closed, and on the weekend.It is not so much the headscarves as the "Islamic sciences," or religion lessons, conducted at Lissane and many other private Arabic language schools, that have drawn scrutiny in a country that has an uneasy relationship with its Muslim minority, the largest in Europe at an estimated five million.Arguing that classical Arabic should be treated like all other "great languages" such as Russian and Chinese, he vowed to develop its teaching in state schools in order to combat "the drift toward self-ghettoization" in private institutions.Only 567 primary schoolchildren studied Arabic last year, a third of the number who took Chinese as their mandatory second language.In secondary school, just around 11,200 pupils studied Arabic, which is offered in a handful of schools in each city, mostly elite city-center colleges.Five years later, Ikram can understand her Tunisian relatives, follow Arabic news channels and read the Quran. But Ines, who wears a headscarf and a loose abaya robe, still wishes Arabic was taught during class time.
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