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



  1. in response to confessions of a traditional schooler, i'd like to say, that very often, we pass on institutionalized thoughts to our children just as someone passed them on to us without realising its far reaching damages.

    here's a short article that sheds light on the matter: Deschooling a parent: learning to trust.

    I take my nephew and niece for swimming occasionally and find it so disturbing to see mothers constantly interrupt the learning pace of their children, screaming instructions from outside, telling them to stop playing with water, to swim a certain way. Often they force them to swim in deep water against their wishes and i can see the fear in the child. on the other hand, children who are left to learn at their own pace (with guidance from others when asked) progress faster.

    a child who was very scared to swim in the adult's pool, clung close to the rod. my nephew, who is probably the same age, and more comfortable with swimming, started playing with him. as a result, i saw the boy lower his guard and let go. he eventually moved away from the edges. a parent's coercion might not have had the same result.

    we are in such a hurry to make our children do certain things. if only we trusted them, they'd learn with confidence and retain every experience.

    i remember, there was an ad that said "i don't want to be my dad's second chance".

    sadly, many of us are doing that with our children, shoving experiences down their throat at a pace we want, not respecting the child's integrity and setting up unnecessary expectations, leading to disappointment on their part as well as ours.

    Maryam Asif

  2. Assalamu Alaykum

    There is a book titled "Homeschooling Our Children, Unschooling Ourselves"

    We were primarily convinced of homeschooling and unschooling by reading the articles on (Learning section) and John Holt's book "How Children Learn". This is a book worth reading, for both parents and teachers. Holt was a school teacher at first and saw firsthand that formal teaching wasnt working very well. When he started looking at the classroom from the children's viewpoint, he learnt How Children Fail, (his first book). He eventually went on to support home-based education, and founded the Growing without Schooling magazine.


  3. Brother Ahsan, jazak Allahu khairan for sharing your experience with us. I learned a lot, and totally agree. That being said, I do think that a University education still helps a lot in getting that first job; however, it is not the key to long-term success, in particular financial and emotional success i.e. succeeding at providing for a family throughout one's life, and also being good at relationships - all relationships. In the end, success comes with the knowledge that one possesses that they actually apply in life.

    I was also thinking that maybe John Holt's books - and in fact, a lot of material that exists on homeschooling right now - is based on studies of, or the basic system of, the American school system. We should keep in mind that although all schools have the same basic structure (teacher and students in a classroom setting), not all the research that is carried out on schools in the West applies directly to Pakistan's schools. It is relevant, yes, but it is not 100% applicable. Our schools are different, and maybe we should start doing research here as well. This point hit home when I read one of John Holt's books. As a person living in Pakistan, I kept wondering, "Does this apply here too? Or aren't our schools different in some ways?" Also, children in Pakistan are different from children in the West. Climatic, cultural, diet-related and genetic factors influence how kids here are different from their Caucasian counterparts. Ask any Pakistani parents living in the West, and they'll comment on how our kids behavior is different in contrast to kids abroad - my own friends have made these observations to me. Just conveying my local, "Pakistani" point of view, because I live here. :-)

    The trouble with schools here is, among other things, the lack of credentials/certifications of the teachers hired to teach, plus the fact that they teach to earn money or pass their time until marriage, or both, rather than to fulfill a passion to make a difference in their students' lives, or to give back to the community, or to help bring up better human beings. I am talking only about the teachers teaching young kids. I personally know three teachers who have been teaching in upscale schools for some years, and none of them particularly like teaching or working with kids; in fact, I have heard some downright shocking things from their own mouths regarding their jobs.

    Thirdly, we should remember that even the Prophet Muhammad [sal Allaahu alayhi wasallam] taught in groups. Young lads would also sit in the comparitively more adult company and learn in an informal "classroom" setting. That's how I learned at Al-Huda, and it changed my life permanently. I was one in a classroom of more than 500 students learning from one teacher, and I would not give back that year-and-a-half of my life in return for anything. I still remember my student days, when I was studying the Quran, with tears in my eyes.

    And fourthly, we should think about starting a blog for our group. Suppose someone in Karachi is interested in homeschooling, or home educating, or improving their children's education by supplementing it with home education tools, or even in finding playdates with a like-minded family for their kids, and does a Google search....will they come up with anything? If our blog was called "Karachi Home Education", they'd be here in an instant, being able to read everything that I have read in this email group, and benefit immensely. This group has a wealth of information (particularly people's thoughts and experiences which they share here, in addition to the links) which is not open to the public. I want everyone out there who wants to do something more in educating/bringing up their child, be able to benefit from the knowledge that is shared here.

    Sadaf Farooqi

  4. Assalamu Alaikum

    I'm pleasantly surprised. As usual when an idea effectively hits Ahsan, he implements with a vigour and enthusiasm that amazes me every time. I'll just have to fan the flames from time to time, keep it burning!

    I am more convinced about homeschooling everyday, and more so because I plan to include Hifz, memorising the Quran, in the educational journey I want my kids to embark on. Perhaps from age 6 to 10. Ahsan and I had always agreed on Hifz being best accomplished in the early years, if anyone knows any good Hifz institutes or Qaris (short memorisation lessons as opposed to the day-long method, keep kids interested & encouraged) do let me know. I'm still trying to see how to best carry out homeschooling, and this year Hajrah my 4 yr old will continue her nursery, while I do my research and finalise my strategy.

    Wa Salam

  5. Asalam o Aliakum
    Dear sister, I live in Hargeisa Somaliland located in the horn of Africa.
    My daughter is 2.5 yr and here in Hargeisa there's not any good school. My friends advised me to teach my daughter at home untill I move back to Pak. (may be after 2 years)
    My question to you is, is home-schooling safe for child's future? will private schools will consider this aunthentic and give my kid admission in the school?
    And I'm teaching my daughters all basic things like urdu/english alphabets, phonics, colors shapes, body parts,. I read her fairytales, nursery rhymes. She watches cartoons and kids movies too.
    Please help me how can I improve myself and is it cool with home-schooling?
    Awaiting for your kind reply.

    1. wa alaykumussalam sister. You can find much useful info on this website. It's particularly helpful because it is from a Muslim perspective:
      From my personal experience of homeschooling for over 9 years, I would say that it has very many benefits - the child gets proper attention; you can tailor the education to her age, interests, pace and learning style and most importantly, according to your goals for your child - which school can do this? Homeschooling helps build a bond between you and your child. You can focus on strengthening the Emaan of your child and can give the deserved attention to Islamic learning.

      Cartoons and movies can make the child addicted to screens and can turn them away from healthy activities such as book-reading, playing, being physically active, arts and crafts, drawing, gardening, exploring, having conversations, etc.

      As for the child's future, there are various ways of getting into high school/ college. One can take board exams privately; one can opt for Quran memorization and join school upon completion of Hifz, and one can enrol in online/ distance learning programs.

      may Allah make things easy for you and guide you to the right decision.