Friday, June 19, 2009

1400-Years Old Lessons for Today‏

By: Erum

Assalamu Alaykum. One of the posts mentioned the Prophet (saw) as a teacher. What can educators and institutions learn from the Prophet (saw) and his ‘classes’? Here are my initial thoughts: (I will benefit from your thoughts.)

  1. CHOICE vs. COERCION: The people who attended the Prophet (saw)’s ‘classes’ CHOSE to do so. They were not coerced into attending his gatherings. They WANTED to learn from him. When I CHOOSE to learn something, the outcome is very different from when I am required to learn it. Learning involves the heart, not just the mind. When the heart is not in it, what lasting good can be expected?

  2. CLASS-LENGTH: The Prophet (saw)’s ‘classes’ are not known to last for half the day, 5-6 days a week, 9 months in a year, with additional time being stolen from students’ family time for homework etc. On the contrary, this incident mentioned in Shahih Bukhari is an eye-opener: 'Abdullah (ibn Masood) used to give a religious talk to the people on every Thursday. Once a man said, "O Aba 'Abdur-Rahman! (By Allah) I wish if you could preach us daily." He replied, "The only thing which prevents me from doing so, is that I hate to bore you, and no doubt I take care of you in preaching by selecting a suitable time just as the Prophet used to do with us, for fear of making us bored." Rasulullah (saw) and his companion were careful about not overdoing it with adults. Children have much shorter attention spans. How much more sensitive we need to be with children!

  3. EMBRACING VS. EXCLUDING: The Prophet (saw)’s society instinctively knew something which traditional societies know, but very few people in today’s ‘brainwashed’ society understand. Those people knew that children are an integral part of the lives of adults, and vice versa. Children learn the most important things in life by hanging around adults, and not 30 other babes. Those people DID NOT EXCLUDE children from their lives. Children had easy access to the Prophet (saw). How many Imams and leaders are accessible to children today? The children were in the Prophet (saw)’s masjid, praying with him and attending his ‘dars’, riding with him, and fighting alongside him in battle! Do today’s masjids, Islamic classes, and adults’ halaqahs welcome children or repel them? Put yourself in a child’s shoes, then imagine aunties and uncles at masjids and classes looking crossly at you and reprimanding you and your mother for being there. What kind of feelings will you grow up with for these places? While the Prophet’s society embraced children, today’s society has a GET-THEM-OUT-OF-THE-WAY attitude. Schools and TV are two great ways to achieve this.

  4. CLASSES FOR ADULTS--- OPEN TO KIDS: Children, by nature, want to do what the adults are doing. And they resist uninvited teaching. So it makes more sense to have classes for adults where children are welcomed rather than have classes for children alone. The Prophet (saw)’s ‘classes’ perhaps aimed primarily at adults, were open to all. When you have classes for children alone, unaccompanied by their parents, a lot of your time will be spent, NOT in learning and teaching, but in CROWD-CONTROL. On a side-note, I have conducted weekly Islamic classes for children coming with their mothers, and classes without mothers. I found the classes to be more productive and effective when the mothers came. Firstly, her very presence shows that she is interested in her child’s learning. Otherwise, isn’t it more convenient to just send your child? Secondly, when mothers learn alongside their children, mums can go home and implement it. A child can’t do that. Much waste of the teacher’s efforts. Islamic schools need to think about this.

  5. NO AGE-SEGREGATION: Schools today are based on age-segregation. They stack 5-yr olds in one room, 6-yr olds in another one and 12-year olds in yet another one. This most unnatural partitioning exists nowhere else in real-life. (Yet schools are thought to prepare kids for the real world!). The Prophet (saw)’s classes were not age-segregated. Sayyidina Umar (ra) and his son attended together! Someone who acquired his Islamic education in traditional West Africa mentioned that there was a 60-year old and a 6-year old in his class. (Read John Taylor Gatto for the trouble with age-segregation.)

  6. WITHHOLD TESTING AND JUDGING: Rasulullah (saw) was constantly enriching people. But he was not constantly testing and judging them. Was he known to be asking: “What verse did I teach you yesterday?” “Wrong. Weren’t you paying attention?” “Right! Very Good” Was he labeling people as ‘Pass’ or ‘Fail’, ‘slow’ or ‘genius’ based on how much they could recall? How flawed, damaging and time-wasting the testing and grading system is requires another write-up. Suffice it to say that many of us hide behind ‘impressive degrees’ but have little knowledge and in-depth understanding of the very subjects we spent years studying.

The author homeschools her 4 children in UAE.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

All that glitters...

By Erum Hafeez

My son is hardly four. He was promoted from pre-nursery to nursery recently. His first academic year cost me Rs100,000, a lot of hard work and anxiety. Like most parents, I want my child to get the best education to ensure a bright future for him.

It all began a year ago when I frantically surveyed all accessible schools and interviewed seasoned parents among my circle of family and friends to find the perfect school for my child. Considering his age, and the lamentable public school set-up, I opted for a leading private school’s branch in Karachi in my area. After the initial formalities, I was instructed to pay a hefty amount of Rs40,000 which included the admission fee and a security deposit. After that, I had to make haste to purchase prescribed books, stationary, accessories and uniforms along with other anxious parents. It took me a dozen trips and another couple of thousand rupees to get everything ready for my child’s kindergarten experience.

On his first day of school, my husband and I accompanied him. It was more of a trial of parents than of children. Oblivious to the brightly coloured premises and made-up teachers, little kids were running and crying frantically for their mothers. The lack of planning, staff and facilities despite the tall claims made and the high cost of education was bothersome for most parents. Interestingly enough, parents were made to stand outside classes while a single lady teacher was helplessly trying to control and console two to three dozen frightened kids in each class. A handful of domestic and administrative staff present at the spot seemed puzzled and tried to comfort parents by explaining that this was a customary practice during the first few days of school.

Most of the classrooms were small and appeared congested in the absence of proper ventilation and electricity — most private schools are housed in residential bungalows without generators and air conditioners and this school was no exception to this rule. Children, thus, perspired profusely given the humid weather. Two weeks passed by and gradually the children learnt to adjust while parents tried to make their peace with the situation. However, I couldn’t help but wonder whether or not I made the right decision by sending my toddler to school at such a tender age.

Soon I came to know that with a few exceptions, most teachers in this highly reputable school are mere graduates. They neither have professional training, nor the necessary experience to handle little kids. Thus, they usually rely on the trial-and-error method. An extremely low criteria for teachers is common in most schools, evident from job advertisements for Montessori and junior schools teachers which appear in newspapers.

Most parents enroll their children in these posh English-medium schools so that they can speak and write English fluently. However, I hardly found any teacher who had strong language skills. Most private school teachers rely on artificial accents and a colloquial style to impress parents in meetings while in classrooms children are exposed to incorrect language.

Within a few days, I noticed horrifying changes in my son. He turned rowdy and impolite with each passing day. When he started using expressions that bordered on obscene, I approached his class teacher but she showed ignorance, refused to accept any responsibility and blamed a few kids from uncivilized families for spoiling others. The lack of professionalism and sense of responsibility in most teachers is because of the fact that they take up teaching as pastime and as an added source of income. Moreover, the tactics that these private schools employ to attract their clients (parents) through cosmetic measures like highly decorated classrooms, extra-curricular activities, meetings, publications and assessments consume most of their teachers’ time and energy. Thus, they hardly take interest in their pupils’ progress.

Since Montessori is the child’s first exposure to the world outside, they need a facilitator and a friend for confidence-building. However, every second day I had to remind my son’s teacher to send him to bathroom after break, as he is partly potty-trained. Soon, I learnt that I had to please the school maid with regular bakshish (tip) and clothes if I cared about my child’s health and hygiene.

The class teacher hardly noticed whether a child needed help wiping his/her nose or washing hands for that matter. She also didn’t seem to care whether or not children ate lunch or drank water throughout the day and often left it to their will. All this was highlighted all the more when children had a birthday party and spoilt their clothes and faces with food stains.

No doubt, it is impossible for a single teacher to take care of every child when she does not have an assistant to control the hyper tots. However, the school administration believed in economy of manpower. On every complaint, parents were told that they were the only ones who have problems while the others were pretty pleased with the entire set-up.

Unfortunately, all this adversely affected my son and he became disinterested with school. He often complained about his teachers’ negligence, harsh words and bullies. For him, the only attraction is his friends from whom he managed to learn bullying tactics to defend himself.

When the things got out of control, I decided to draw teachers’ attention towards serious matters through frequent notes in school diary. Consequently, I was labelled as a nosy parent. Thankfully, it did make the teacher a little conscious of her language and she also separated my child from the mischief-makers.

In the meanwhile, co-curricular activities started in school. In the name of charity events for earthquake victims, parents were pushed into contributing thousands of rupees through tickets. Despite extravagant preparations, most events disappointed both students and parents as they lacked creativity, organisation and participation on part of the students.

Throughout the first year of my child’s academic life, I desperately felt the need for a platform for concerned parents especially when I learnt that most of us are in the same boat. However, most parents are reluctant to voice their concerns as they are afraid of the consequences. On the other hand, the authorities can’t dictate anything to private schools even though they keep on increasing their monthly fee periodically along with taking the tuition fee in advance.

It is only parents, clients of these private businesses, who can question and control them. Parents can get together and establish an organised parents’ council or association where parents can gather fearlessly to check and balance the school administration and staff initiatives, monitor their kid’s academic progress and counter the highhandedness of private school mafia regarding fund-raising and money-making tactics.

The writer is a freelance contributor

Did you know?

• That the average monthly fee for kindergarten for most privates schools range anywhere between Rs. 4,000-6,000.
• There is one kindergarten teacher for a class of about 40 children in most schools.
• The entire school day for children that young comprises three hours at the most.
• Most teachers learn how to handle children that young on the job.
• Kindergarten teachers often resort to corporal punishment.
• Nine out of 10 parents feel like their children are not doing anything productive when in Montessori.
• Nine out of 10 kindergarten students in most private schools are exposed to some form of expletive in class before the age of five.

(Courtesy: “Dawn”; Sept. 3, 2006)

Did you know that school is optional?

By Laila Brence

Did you know that school is optional? Yes, indeed it is! Although this might sound bizarre to our minds, but only because we have been pre-programmed to think the opposite. As soon as our child has learned to walk and talk, we see sending him off to school as a logical part of his development. Being well-meaning parents aware of the responsibilities conferred upon us by Allah (swt), we look around for that special Alma Mater, to which we feel safe to entrust our offspring. That’s the way our society works nowadays, isn’t it?

Or is it really? Do we really have to feel ‘fine’ about sending that two-and-a-half-year-old child out on a cold winter morning without long pants, just because shorts is the only acceptable uniform at school? And what about the over-crowded classrooms? Incompetent teachers? And skyrocketing school fees? Of course, not always is the scenario so grave, and I do not intend to talk about the badness of the schooling system or undermine the validity of education as such. My aim is to invite you, as parents, to consider the benefits your children and you might reap by opening your minds to a possible alternative – home-based education or, in other words, home-schooling.

In his book “How Children Learn,” John Holt (1927-1985), a leading American educational and social critic, offers meaningful insights into the delicate and unique ways young children acquire knowledge about the surrounding world:

"The child is curious. He wants to make sense out of things, find out how things work, gain competence and control over himself and his environment, and do what he can see other people doing. He is open, perceptive, and experimental. He does not merely observe the world around him. He does not shut himself off from the strange, complicated world around him, but tastes it, touches it, hefts it, bends it, breaks it. To find out how reality works, he works on it. He is bold. He is not afraid of making mistakes. And he is patient. He can tolerate an extraordinary amount of uncertainty, confusion, ignorance, and suspense… School is not a place that gives much time or opportunity, or reward for this kind of thinking and learning.

"It is before they get to school that children are likely to do their best learning. (…) I believe, and try to show here, that in most situations our minds work best, when we use them in a certain way, and that young children tend to learn better than grownups (and better than they themselves will when they are older), because they use their minds in a special way. In short, children have a style of learning that fits their condition, and which they use naturally and will until we train them out of it. We like to say that we send children to school to teach them to think. What we do, all too often, is to teach them to think badly, to give up a natural and powerful way of thinking in favour of a method that does not work well for them and that we rarely use ourselves."

If we have felt confident enough about teaching to our child such essential skills as walking and talking, then why do we all of a sudden feel obliged to hand over our offspring to the schooling system for his further education? Aren’t we, as parents, more aware of their abilities and learning styles than the class-teacher, who has to attend to the needs of more than a dozen at once? Will Allah (swt) question us or that class-teacher about the upbringing of this child?

Every child is special in his own way, and often the schooling system tends to become a melting-pot which strips him of his natural inquisitiveness and love for learning. How? Well, by forcing over-seasoned with fact textbooks prepared by wise grownups down his throat. How can he possibly develop into a socially-responsible individual with a well-rounded personality? Why don’t we, as parents, claim our right to being the most important people in the life of our child?

Allah (swt) has ordained us to seek knowledge throughout our lives but has not put on us any restrictions regarding the ways and means it should be done (with the exception of getting involved in Haram, of course). However, Islam does single out parents, especially the mother, as the one responsible for good upbringing of the child.

Home-based education and caring family involvement give the child numerous benefits. Parents have the opportunity to create a unique curriculum for their child, focusing on the areas of his interests and emphasizing the Islamic aspect of every subject. Lessons can easily be adapted to the learning speed of the child, slowing down or speeding up, when necessary. No classroom stress, no bullying, no peer-pressure. If the child ‘calls in sick’ some morning, the day can quickly turn into a crafts project or any other activity your child particularly enjoys.

The time children spend with us, parents, is very short, if we compare it to the years they will spend on their own in the world of grownups. This short time is our opportunity to give them our best for enabling them to make the right choices to further their lives.


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Embattled Thoughts of a Traditional Schooler

Assalam o alaikum

My name is Ahsan, and I have recently joined this mailing list. My wife, Sabin Noor and my friend Azeem Pirani have been instrumental in getting me to start thinking about homeschooling--in the positive direction .

I have been wondering. Is unschooling only for children? Read some of my thoughts below. Sorry about the length. I have never been very good at being concise.


Part 1: Life of a traditional schooler

1977: My arrival year to this world
1983: Class 1.....Amongst the top 3 performers in the class.
1992: Class 9.....Amongst the top sportsmen in the class.
1994 : O Levels.....6 As out of 7 subjects
1996: A Levels.......2As plus admission in IBA (Institute of Business Administration)
2000: MBA from IBA......3.5 GPA

Having achieved pretty decent things in a schooling life of 17 years, and having made my elders and self proud by getting reasonable distinction out of the crowd, I was “above-average”. Having sought inspiration from the financial successes of my family’s elders & entrepreneurs (most of whom were dead when I turned 4), I wanted to be an entrepreneur too.

2005: After a 4 years stint in the corporate world, and after having the pleasures of working with some of the top names of Advertising (Interflow), Islamic Banking (Meezan), Conventional Banking (Citibank), I laid the foundation of my business……………..

And failed miserably! …………nearly 4 million rupees down the drain………and a mountain of debt on my head. Oops, what went wrong?

2008: Time to seek answers……..let’s be the Sherlock Homes…….however, this time, let me not do something that I learnt in schools which was to seek the easy way out and ask some “specialist” for answers. I will do my own research. I will find out about successful people through reading.

Reading? Are you nuts, Ahsan? The only time you read was two nights before the exams, and that too was “intelligent textual scan”. Look at the GRADES you got. There is no correlation between your “success” (measured by grades) and reading. So, forget reading. Do what you were taught in school. Visit an expert. He will do some diagnostics on you, and give you some quick-fixes and you should be back on track.

2009: Fortunately, I did not visit the "doctor", and spent hours doing something I never did before. I read one book on the Google’s Founders, The Google Story. (Hmmm! That was fun!) I followed that one with a book on Wal Mart. (Interesting!!) Next, Good to Great by Jim Collins. (Wow!!) Seven Habits of Highly Effective People…………..and recently, “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki……….I am reading Winning by Jack Welch now, and am planning to study Technical & Fundamental Analysis techniques for Investing, and Vision Development Techniques & Time Management Techniques etc etc etc........


17 years of expensive education!!! Firstly under the amazing O & A Levels system of UK, and then 4 Years with one of the top universities in Asia, and you don’t know how to manage time, finances & people? Mr. Ahsan, that is pretty basic stuff that you have missed……and what was it that you were saying about yourself? You felt you were above-average, right?

One last question, sir. Your schooling system must have taught you to direct your life to some worthwhile vision. So what is your vision, Mr. Ahsan? Mr. Ahsan…….Mr. Ahsan? (He’s lying on the floor, stone-dead)

June 10, 2009: Mr. Ahsan, the above-average product of the schooling system, the self-proclaimed genius, passed away under serious depression that his 31 years have been absolutely directionless.

Part 2: Confessions of the Traditional Schooler

A few minutes ago, my wife coerced me to hear an article on the drawbacks of traditional schooling ( and while she was reading it, my mind drifted towards the questions I have been battling to answer. A lot of these books that I have read recently have been amongst the best sellers, and are easily available if you were to visit any bookstore in Karachi. Not only did this literature help me identify my deficiencies, and the loop-holes in my overall strategy, they have given me access to incredible tools that I intend to apply in my personal and professional life from here on. I may have lost money, and am in a fair bit of financial duress too, but I learnt that I am not the first one to be in this mess. Almost all successful people have benefited from their good & bad judgments and as someone aptly stated:

“Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment”.

While I find consolation in the words and text of the books that I read, I still struggle to understand why the schooling system that I have been associated with failed to share this important and basic information? While I may crib and cry about this thing happening to me in Pakistan, it is a sad reality that even in the strong economies like the US, the educational system fails to teach students the basics of “financial literacy”. For weeks, I have been thinking about all this, and whoops, my wife reads this article ( to me, and it all dawns to me that this inadequate transfer of right amount of knowledge to the masses is not due to bad luck! It is most clearly because of the deliberate design of the current educational system that aims at churning out masses that are capable only to do basic, manual, clerical and repetitive tasks.

So if you are trying to be different from the herd, and are targeting being more productive than the brother-clones that were “educated”: along with you, you need access to a totally different curriculum. While the traditional schooling system has managed to keep that information out of the reach of their students, the natural process of learning, the unschooling or the homeschooling is alhamdolillah still there.

What I went through between 2005 and 2009 was an unintentional process of unschooling, and it was the financial failure that got me to “unschool” myself. Through a true accident, I came to this painful realization that unschooling is essential for all of us, and at all ages. My traditional schooling had made me think that I knew everything, but the more I read independently, the more I got to know that I knew not.

While I am happy that my unschooling has started, I am also very happy to note that the homeschooling efforts being made by this group would help produce better individuals from grass-root levels, However, I am still very worried about the rest of my herd. Not only do their children need homeschooling, they too need to go through a process of unschooling.

My wife is probably reading this mail too and thanking Allah that I have become the “convert” in favor of homeschooling. Well, I have become a lot more than that. I’m planning to work on hardcore traditional schoolers like myself. :)

Thanks for your time