Northern Ireland schools given funding for Arabic studies
Four schools in Northern Ireland have received financial assistance from Qatar to provide Arabic as a foreign language option.
The funding has been provided by the US-based Qatar Foundation International.
The tiny oil-rich Gulf state is currently in a diplomatic standoff with Saudi Arabia over its alleged support for Islamic extremism.
A total of nine schools in the United Kingdom have been selected to benefit from this new funding stream.
Three are in Essex, one in Bradford and one in Cardiff.
The Qatar Foundation International has donated a total of £400,000 to the British Council programme.
Of this sum, £70,000 will be spent in classrooms across the United Kingdom for the teaching of Arabic in the belief that it will be the business language of the future.
Among the recipients is Shimna Integrated College, Newcastle.
Principal Kevin Lambe said: "We've seen huge benefits from teaching Arabic, not just for long-term employment and business opportunities, but mainly around cultural integration and understanding."
Shimna Integrated College is a three-time winner of the International Schools Award.
According to the British Council, there are 230 million native Arabic speakers - with Arabic as a second language for up to 200 million more people.
The council has ranked Arabic as the second most important language to the UK over the next 20 years.
Fewer than one per cent of schools in the UK teach Arabic at any level.
The British Council has a strong track record of encouraging the teaching of Arabic in Northern Ireland .
In 2016, nine schools in Northern Ireland participated in an initiative started by the British Council's Arabic Culture and Language Programme.
Belfast Royal Academy, Shimna Integrated College, Methodist College, St Columb's College, St Malachy's Primary, St Catherine's College, St Patrick's Grammar, Saints & Scholars and St Patrick's Primary all took part.