This month, my daughter A’ishah, who is about to turn 5 years old in May, started first grade at her school, DA Junior Model School Beach View (which is located right behind Royal Rodale on Khayaban-e-Seher, Defence Phase 6). It was an emotional and proud day for me. I cannot deny experiencing the immense pleasure a parent feels when they see their child accomplish a milestone in this world. However, a sad part of me was reminiscent of the days when I held her as a baby; of the time when she was born, and I couldn’t resist marveling at how fast children grow. On the day she wore her new uniform for first grade – the one for the school’s primary section, which is different from that for the pre-primary section – I looked at her pre-primary uniforms that are now redundant, with a little dismay, remembering how happy I had felt when she had put one of them on for the first time, on her first day of school. However, it hit me that this is exactly the transient nature – the reality – of the life of this world. Every good thing comes to an end, and situations constantly evolve. Therefore, someone who is in transit, with a luggage packed and ready for travel, shouldn’t wander around in a daze, enthralled with the airport shops. Get what I mean? 🙂
“Mama, I am going to buy you a Mercedes Kompressor from one of those car showrooms some day!”
*Laughing* “How will you do that? They cost a lot of money.”
“So I will get the money.”
“Oh really? From where?”
“From the ATM.”
I was once listening to the late Dr Israr Ahmed’s tafsir on television at my parents’ home, in which he was explaining a verse from the Quran that mentioned اولاد (children) – right now I cannot remember exactly which verse it was. He said something that really struck me, and has stayed with me to this day. He said: “If you want to see what a believer’s level of faith is; how much he is really inclined towards Islam, then look at what he is making his children.” He explained that even if a parent observes Islam’s basic obligations on a personal level, it is in fact his insistence on, and efforts towards, his offspring’s practice of Deen, which really shows his actual inclination towards Islam. After becoming a parent, I can vouch for the truth behind his words!
If you are a parent with small children, I request you to do a mental exercise: close your eyes and try to imagine your son or daughter after 20 years; what do you see? What do you envision him or her to be like?
That vision should show you your own inclination towards, and priority of, the practice of Islam on a personal level.
I was really interested in homeschooling a couple of years ago. However, I did not take any major decision on a whim, preferring to think about it, gain knowledge related to it, and consult my husband thoroughly. Finally, I did istikharah about the choice to home school my children or not, and as of now, I have decided to stick to traditional schooling methods. Here are the reasons behind it:
The glaring differences between Pakistan’s schools and public schools in the West
Most authors of home education literature and homeschooling resources that are sold in the Western world base their observations, statistics, and studies of schooling on the public school system in the West. School over there starts for a child at the age of five, and lasts long hours, with children taking lunch at the school premises, and being transported to and from school (more often than not) in a school bus. Schools are usually huge, with hundreds upon hundreds of pupils, and there is little one-to-one interaction between teachers and students. In addition, schools have many extra curricular activities, clubs and societies operating within them, such as shop, drama/theatre, publication and broadcasting, gymnastics, sororities and campus sports.
In addition, let us not forget that most schools in the West have started to witness an alarming, rising incidence of school shootings and on-campus violence. Graphic sex education is sometimes compulsory for all middle school students (or even younger pupils), and absolutely no religious tarbiyah/training is imparted at public school level. Also, the public schools are mostly co-educational, with intermingling of both genders. Private education, due to its exorbitant costs, eludes most in Western society, especially Muslim immigrant families, and caters mostly to the wealthy faction.These are the prime reasons why orthodox Christians, Mormons and Muslims in the West opt to homeschool their children. Although, of course, the benefits of homeschooling are a major factor in and of themselves, too, in influencing this decision.
Contrast all this to the local Pakistani school system, and you will notice that, alhamdulillah, our local schools are not even half as bad in comparison, even though they albeit have their own shortcomings. In the primary classes of local Pakistani schools, there is more interaction not just between teacher and student, but also between a teacher and her student’s mother. With both the nice ladies who have been teaching my daughter since she was two-and-a-half years old, from playgroup, through KG, Prep and now grade 1, I have maintained a close, confiding relationship, openly discussing with them the areas in which A’ishah needs to improve, and personally reassuring them of my own contribution in those areas, by reprimanding her transgressions when necessary, and proactively supplementing her education at home (what is now becoming known as “backdoor homeschooling”). I even had their cell phone or landline numbers to discuss A’ishah with them after school hours, while at home. You might think that is no big deal; however, let me assure you that not all mothers of little tots choose to be thoroughly involved in their ward’s education nowadays. They expect the school to mold their child exactly into what they envision him or her to be down the road, and any discrepancy results in squarely blaming the teacher or school for their child’s shortcomings, comparing them to the accented-English-speaking, brand-touting, foreign-culture-emulating children at the pricier, more sought-after schools in the city (read Karachi Grammar School or KGS, Bay View, or Frobels). However, I am not such a parent, alhamdulillah.
In addition, local social networks are such that mothers of children, more often than not, know their children’s teachers at school, since the latter are usually mothers of young ones themselves, and paths of both mothers and teachers keep crossing through networks such as Al-Huda (for me, this is a major factor for knowing many of the city’s women through a common connection!), common friends, alumni networks (viz. having attended the same school or college) or by crossing paths at weddings and other social get-togethers. I have received teaching offers from two of the major Islamic schools in the city – where I know some of the dedicated and regular teaching staff, mainly because they were my colleagues at Al-Huda in the past.
Local Pakistani schools also proactively impart basic religious (Islamic) education (I am not including the convents, obviously), such as telling the children to recite bismillah before eating, and teaching them about Ramadan during morning assembly when the holy month starts. Foundations of basic Islamic beliefs (Aqeedah) and other Islamic information are also pictorially presented on charts and in other art forms on the school’s notice boards.
Local schools get off at maximum 2 p.m., with earlier get-off times on Fridays to accommodate the Jum’uah prayer.
Lastly, local schools offer single-gender education options after grade 5 – as they know that some practicing Muslim parents prefer to avoid co-educational institutions for their children beyond that grade.
All of the above factors make the local Pakistani schooling system different from that in the West. Please keep that in mind when you consider homeschooling your children. As a friend of mine who is currently residing in UAE recently remarked, “Pakistan’s schools’ primary education is better than that in any other country.”
“Mama, your niqab still shows your forehead and part of your nose. Why don’t you wear the one with just the eye-slits?”
*Taken aback* “I tried that one, beta. It blocks my view on the sides of my eyes due to my face structure.”
“When I grow up, I will wear the niqab that shows only the eyes.”
“That’s good! Say Insha’Allah.”
A’ishah’s love for school, outdoor adventure, physical recreation and social interaction
On the rare days when she is sick and has to stay back at home, I can see the disappointment in A’ishah’s entire demeanor as she misses her classroom, teacher and the collective studying process. She spends most of the day simulating an imaginary classroom and the associated dialogue between the teachers and students, taking attendance in an imaginary register and shouting at her imaginary pupils to form a straight line. She also goes around with her bag on her back and constantly scribbles on her notebooks whilst sitting on her little desk, drawing and reading out from her reading books. Once she asked me at 10 a.m, if I could drop her to school then; if she’d still make it in time if I did.
Also, she wakes up early no matter how late she goes to sleep, and is, masha’Allah, proficient in dressing up by herself for school, including making her hair, and packing her lunch in her bag, if I am sick and get late in waking up to get her ready. On most days after I pick her up from school, she tells me how much she enjoys her new class and likes her new teacher. When she is misbehaving or not listening to me, I ask her, “Okay, you don’t want to go to school tomorrow then?”, and she immediately complies, saying, “I want to, I want to!”
After her recent spring break was drawing to a close, when I told her after the two-week holiday that she would be going to school the next morning, she jumped up in the air with an excited shout of “Yay!” and ran from room to room in unfettered glee.
If these are not ‘signs’ from Allah, especially since my recent istikharah about whether I should homeschool her or not, clearly indicating to me the right option I should take, I don’t know what will be!
Constant challenges and da’wah opportunities
A’ishah has been constantly challenged at her school. Time and again, situations crop up that make her come to me for advice regarding what to do about, and how to respond to, other children’s behavior or provocations.
“Mama, I do not like it that my arms show in short sleeves.”
“You are too young to worry about that. Insha’Allah, when you get older, you can cover yourself before men according to Allah’s commands.”
Some of the children in her school are extremely naughty and bossy; I must admit, even she is like that at her worst. There have been situations in which they have tried to ‘bully’ her into doing something that she did not want to do, and she resisted successfully. She comes to me regularly for advice about what to do when so-and-so does such-and-such thing to her, or says –this-or-that to her. The constant challenges make her learn lessons in managing and controlling the dynamics of her social relationships with others, including those with teachers and other elders, such as the school’s domestic staff. Each day is a new learning experience, and I am carefully imparting to her the skills needed to forgive yet be firm with others; to mingle with everyone and share her things, but not get affected by others’ negative influences and habits. For example, I do not allow her to buy candies and chips from the school canteen. When she saw other children buying them, she wanted to do the same. A few times, I relented and let her buy the chips. She did not like the variety that was being sold the couple of times she bought the chips. Since then, she hasn’t asked me for money. The lesson that I imparted to her verbally, that “food brought from home is more clean, tasty and nutritious” has been practically proved true. And with Allah lies all source of benefit.
Another practical challenge came in the form of the music class that she was made to attend since playgroup level (age 2-3). Their music teacher would bring an organ into their class, and play it whilst everyone sang poems and swayed to the tunes, sometimes using hand gestures to express the message of the poems. My husband and I requested her teacher at the parent-teacher meeting, to make her opt out of this class. They were very accommodating and respectful of our request.
Today, A’ishah sits in another section and colors on a book that she takes with her from home when her classmates attend music; sometimes she sits in another section when an academic class is going on and learns knowledge of a subject while there. I also clarified to the class teacher, when I was requesting that she be made to opt out of music, that it was not the singing of poems that I had a problem with, but the organ that the music teacher played – I told her that our Prophet [صلى اللهُ عليه و سلم] explicitly forbade the use of, or listening to, musical instruments, even for children who are otherwise allowed to sing poems/poetry that has nothing impermissible in its wordings. The teacher understood but told me that my own child might feel left out when her class goes for music. Alhamdulillah, that has not happened to date. Instead, A’ishah has taken it very positively. Her simple mind understands that if Allah and His Messenger [صلى اللهُ عليه و سلم] has forbidden it, that is it. 🙂 Even though the whole class goes for music, her faith in Allah has enabled her to not miss it, nor to feel left out because of ‘peer pressure’.
It is true that children take vibes from their parents. If parents are apologetic and wavering in their practice of Islam, particularly in the level of their conviction of and adherence to Islam’s obligations and prohibitions, the children follow suit.
Private tuition culture
For all the relentless flak it gets from international media because of the volatile situation up North, Pakistan has an excellent primary and secondary education system. No, I did not mistype that last sentence, nor was I out of my senses when I wrote it. I have seen the results of, and read about, the early education systems of other countries, and I think that the performance of our local teenagers in international examinations and foreign university entrance tests speaks for itself – as well as for the laudable local education standards. It is the local higher education system that, more often than not, with the exception of a few colleges and universities, leaves a lot to be desired…
“Mama, I know what people do when they die and go to Paradise.”
“Oh? Okay, what?”
“They perform Hajj around the Ka’ba!”
One part of local Pakistani culture that is actually ‘homeschooling’ in and of itself, is the private tuition culture. Whether its the neighborhood ‘Aunty’ who teaches her neighbors’ children on weekdays, making them do their homework and prepare for exams; or the private coaching and tuition centers that impart private education to students for a fee, Pakistan is one country that offers flexible options for private supplementary education besides official schooling – at an additional cost of course. However, I know of cases in which teenagers sat privately for O-level or A-Level examinations without attending any school, sometimes before reaching the optimum age, and successfully passed these exams. For those of us considering home education, thankfully there are more options as our children grow older; they can be enrolled as private candidates and made to give foreign or local board examinations privately, while their education is supplemented with extracurricular activities and other private courses such as Qurah Hifdh, foreign languages or Islamic Studies (Tafsir etc). Fact of the matter is that home education resources offer a refreshingly unrestricted array of options for activities that develop your child’s skills, whether natural or acquired, at home, such as crafting, baking, pottery, workshop/building, Arabic speaking, creative writing, and what not!
Teachers are honored in Islam – they deserve respect
“Mama, don’t you want to get married and dress up as a bride?”
“I already did that, beta.”
“And what about Baba? Did he get married?”
People who teach, whether they are parents teaching their children, trainers conducting workshops or seminars, life coaches imparting personal development skills, or primary teachers and professors employed as educators in schools, colleges and universities, they are people who are granting guidance and knowledge to others, and hence they deserve the utmost respect, recognition, honor and credit for their noble work. By discounting the role of institutionalized education in the development and progress of modern society, we are undermining the hard work teachers are putting in day and night at their jobs and occupations. Is that fair? There are all kinds of teachers out there – but sweeping them all with a broad brush would not be wise; what message would it give to our homeschooled youth? That these educators do not deserve respect? That they are wasting their time and energy? Or worst of all, that they are monsters in disguise, cruelly oppressing and mistreating the youth of today? No matter how bad our childhood school experiences might be, I am sure we all can identify at least one good teacher who impacted our lives positively, because of whom we learned to excel at a subject that we initially found very tough or insurmountable. So, we should give credit where it is due, and curb any negative or disdainful insinuations against others in our opinions when expounding our choice of education to our children.
Homeschooling is an alternative mode of education that incorporates flexibility and ease into the child’s schooling, without pressurizing them to excel, or worse, to beat others, in exams or tests; accommodating their progress at a natural, optimum pace, and doing away with negative peer pressure, especially its unhealthy effects that leave, at times, permanent marks on the psyche of children. Negative peer pressure starts at primary level in the form of emotional or physical classroom and school-yard bullying, followed later on by subconscious classification of school students into exclusive cliques based on ‘coolness’, brains, good looks and popularity.
While homeschooling has tremendous advantages, those undertaking it should remember that it is not for everyone; it is just that – alternative education. Homeschooled children and their families should be careful about developing a holier-than-thou attitude that makes them look down upon schooled children or judge the parents of the latter to be bad decision-makers regarding their children’s education. They should be conscious about guarding their hearts from the destructive and forbidden disease of arrogance, or kibr, which Satan might cause to creep into their hearts by making them think, “We are better than them because we are homeschooled”. Homeschooling is a decision that is family-based – it requires a certain mindset, sacrifice, extra effort and patience on the part of the parents – both of them, not just the stay-at-home mother.
“Mama, did the Prophet [صلى اللهُ عليه و سلم] like milk?”
“Yes, he did.”
“Then why don’t you drink milk?”