Sweden's education minister wants to make it easier for the heads of higher education establishments to ban women wearing face-covering veils at their schools, he said in comments broadcast today.
"Teaching is communication. It's about being able to look at each other in the eyes and communicate with each other," Jan Bjoerklund told Swedish public radio. "In that way, I mean it is extremely unsuitable to allow clothing which covers the face," he said.
Bjoerklund is also the leader of the Liberal Party, a partner in the government's four-party coalition vying for re-election on September 19.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt told AFP Bjoerklund's suggestion was a Liberal Party proposal, and that it had not been discussed by Reinfeldt's Moderate Party or the government as a whole. It is currently unclear in Swedish legislation whether a school can forbid students from wearing full-covering Islamic veils known as niqab or burqa.
But the Swedish national agency for education issued a directive in 2003 saying schools did have the right to ban students from wearing the burqa. "Schools, both on pedagogical grounds and as a general rule, can forbid the burqa," the agency said at the time.
Bjoerklund said he wanted "Sweden's headmasters to have laws that are easy to interpret. You should not have to go to court to know what the law says."
Last year, a municipal adult-education establishment in Stockholm banned a woman wearing the niqab from a child care course. She claimed she was discriminated against and took her case to Sweden's discrimination ombudsman, who has not yet rendered a decision.
Bjoerklund today said he thought it would be unfair to allow young women wearing face-covering veils to complete an education aimed at employment in Swedish pre-schools, since they would likely never get a job.
"Children must be able to look at their nursery school teacher to see if she is ... happy or worried or whatnot," he said.