07 March 2024

Muslim school student - shutterstock_100114868-web.jpgNAPLAN can be tough, but it's going to be even harder for Muslim students this year as the National Assessment coincides with the beginning of Ramadan, say University of South Australia researchers.

From next week, students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 are expected to sit the National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy test - better known as NAPLAN.

While students may find the overall test trickier this year given the shift in testing dates from May to March in 2023 – which many experts have already criticised – there's one group of students who may require extra support this year, as the testing window coincides with an important cultural period.

This year, the NAPLAN testing will see greater impacts for Muslim students due to the overlapping with the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which Muslims observe by fasting from dawn to sunset.

Leading researcher in Islamic studies and founding director of the University of South Australia's Centre for Islamic Thought and Education (CITE), Professor Mohamad Abdalla AM says educators can be more culturally responsive in their teaching to better help students from diverse backgrounds.

“The scheduling of NAPLAN testing during the period between Ramadan and Eid festival presents unique challenges for students within the Islamic community,” Professor Abdalla says.

“Fasting during Ramadan, which involves abstaining from food and drink from dawn until sunset, can potentially impact students’ concentration, energy levels, and overall well-being.

“Given the rigorous nature of standardised testing like NAPLAN, where focus and cognitive function are paramount, fasting may exacerbate feelings of fatigue and reduce students' ability to perform at their best.”

Throughout his research titled “Culturally Responsive Pedagogy and the Muslim Learner: Meaningful sources for optimal learning”, Professor Abdalla and colleagues discuss the concept of 'Culturally Responsive Pedagogy' (CRP), which ‘emphasises and respects students’ identities and backgrounds as meaningful sources for optimal learning’ and ‘embrace[s] and build on student identities and background as an asset for learning’.

With NAPLAN, Professor Abdalla hopes schools and governments will embrace the idealism of 'Culturally Responsive Pedagogy' to understand and better assist Muslim students during the testing period, acknowledging the 'crucial role' schools play during this period.

“Schools can offer flexibility in scheduling NAPLAN exams to accommodate students observing Ramadan, such as providing alternative testing times or allowing students to take breaks during the test if needed,” he says.

“Additionally, schools can create a supportive and inclusive environment by raising awareness among staff and students about the significance of Ramadan and the potential challenges faced by fasting students.

“Government entities can also provide guidance and resources to schools on best practices for accommodating religious observances during standardised testing periods, ensuring equitable access and support for all students.”

Although he wants to see greater support and emphasis placed upon CRP for Muslim students from schools and government entities, Professor Abdalla outlined methods in which Muslim families and students undertaking NAPLAN can better prepare themselves in the days leading up to the start of Ramadan.

“Proactive measures can be taken by students, parents, schools, and government entities to mitigate these challenges and ensure that Muslim students are adequately supported in undertaking the tests while observing their religious obligations,” he says.

“By fostering understanding, flexibility, and inclusivity, we can create an environment where all students have the opportunity to thrive academically, regardless of their religious beliefs or practices.

“Students may experience heightened stress and anxiety due to concerns about managing their fasting obligations alongside the demands of the test. To better prepare themselves for undertaking the NAPLAN test while fasting, Muslim students and their parents can implement several strategies.

“Parents can support their children by helping them establish healthy eating and sleeping routines and encouraging them to engage in relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or mindfulness, to manage stress.”


Notes for editors:
Full paper available here: Abdalla, Mohamad, Nadeem Memon and Dylan Chown, “Culturally Responsive Pedagogy and the Muslim Learner: Meaningful Sources for Optimal Learning” in Culturally Responsive Pedagogy: Meaningful Sources for Optimal Learning (Routledge, 2023)


UniSA Media contact: Annabel Mansfield M: +61 479 182 489 E: Annabel.Mansfield@unisa.edu.au

MCERA Media contact: Luke Harris E: luke.harris@mcera.org.au 

UniSA researcher: Professor Mohamad Abdalla AM M: +61 407 921 978 E: mohamad.abdalla@unisa.edu.au



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