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Are Australian Islamic schools elitist?

Mahmood Nathie (Department of Education Futures, University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia)

Journal for Multicultural Education

ISSN: 2053-535X

Article publication date: 8 June 2021

Issue publication date: 9 August 2021




The purpose of this study is to examine whether Australian Islamic schools, by dint of their unique status within Australian private schooling, may be construed as elitist or exclusivist premised on markers such as religious affiliation, school age, history, location, reputation and non-curricular excellences such as affluence and alumni. This issue has not been examined empirically hitherto. This study addresses this absence, as these markers, when used selectively, may make student entry restrictive by virtue of enrolment criteria that is either hyper selective or exclusivist that is often administered through costly tuition fees.


Quantitative analysis is used to examine four distinct elitist markers associated with Islamic schools, as they appeal to a market prescribed by faith, preference and demand. Data is sourced from selected government and independent school databases including the index of community socio-educational advantage (ICSEA) database.


The findings indicate that Islamic schools do not fit any of these markers partly because these schools are positioned predominantly in middle to lower socio-economic communities and areas where the measure of educationally advantaged backgrounds is only marginally above the ICSEA threshold of 1,000. Further, their enrolment criteria are not premised on high fee-based structures nor on exclusivist selection and enrolment practices that would tag them as elitist.

Research limitations/implications

It is quite possible that parental and community perceptions of Islamic schools using qualitative measures may identify some schools as elitist. This, however, has yet to be tested empirically in further studies relying on surveys, interviews and focus group sessions.

Practical implications

Islamic schools should not market nor portray themselves as elitist or exclusivist for that may undermine the very purpose of their function as faith-based institutions.

Social implications

Perceptions of elitism levelled against some Islamic schools must be weighed against a number of distinct social markers. The examination of four markers in this study does not support such perceptions. Elitist perceptions may abound within communities and amongst parents when vying for student placements in these schools. The basis for such observations, however, is at best anecdotal or outright conjectural in the absence of empirical evidence.


This is the first and only study that examines the issue of elitism amongst Islamic schools in Australia and elsewhere.



Nathie, M. (2021), "Are Australian Islamic schools elitist?", Journal for Multicultural Education, Vol. 15 No. 2, pp. 184-200.



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