Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Education is not preparation for life... Education is life itself John Dewey

When my daughter was about 9 years old we took her out of school in order to home educate her.  Allah had kindly guided me to Islam, and my husband and I felt that it was unfair on our daughter to expect her to live two completely different lives.. one at school and one at home.  The school which she attended was wonderful – she was not at the age where she had to wear a headscarf but had chosen to do so, and, on her first day the headmistress brought her up in front of the relatively small assembly of students, and introduced her and told them she wore the scarf because she was a Muslim.  This totally nipped any bullying in the bud, and in so many other ways they were very accommodating, so I cannot complain about the school at all.  But mixing with people who were being brought up with such different values as the ones we wanted to instil in her at such an impressionable age meant that at times she would have to be the one that was totally different to all the rest, or at others that she may have to hide things from us as she knew we wouldn’t approve.

I didn’t know it was possible to home educate until I met an English Muslim who lived nearby who was home educating and who encouraged me to research it.   Her children had never been to school, and there was no legal requirement for her to inform the authorities so she was free of any government involvement in her children’s education.  As my daughter  was being withdrawn from school the Local Education Authority had to be informed and I was sent a form to complete asking for details and reasons why I wanted to home educate.  This was followed up by a visit from one of their representatives who was a lovely woman whom I got to know quite well over the ensuing years on her annual visits.

It wasn’t easy home educating with 5 children, all of different ages, abilities and varying levels of enthusiasm, but it was one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve had in my life.  Whenever I hear people saying that they could never do it… that they don’t have the patience, the qualifications, the time etc. etc., I remember that is exactly how I felt when I only had the one to educate!  I had to let go of a lot of my misconceptions e.g. that they would have to study for the same hours as school, that a fully qualified teacher would know what’s best for my child’s education better than me, that I would somehow fail my children and ruin their lives by not sending them to school etc. etc.  I joined an organization named Education Otherwise who sent out a newsletter every month which became my monthly boost of reassurance and encouragement, and then afterwards the Islamic group, IHSAN, the Islamic Home Schooling Advisory Network.  Our local librarians were also wonderful and helpful and, to be honest, I did receive some curricular support from the lovely woman from the LEA also.  My aim was to educate my children so that they could continue to educate themselves for the rest of their lives.

When we moved to Algeria my eldest was 18, had sat her GCSEs at a few schools where the helpful administrators allowed her to sit as an external candidate, and she was attending a College to continue her studies for her ‘A’ Levels as she was interested in the Science subjects and needed access to a well-equipped lab.  She had just started her final year and chose to stay behind with relatives while we moved to Algeria.  My 11 year old son had finished his primary education with me, and my 8 year old daughter was bang in the middle of hers.  The youngest two boys at 5 and 2 were still too young and not affected in the slightest. 

To be honest our plans for our children’s education once we moved to Algeria were very vague, mainly because we thought, if all fails, we can just continue to home educate.  Our first few months after we moved were busy with Ramadan, setting up a business and looking for a home while trying to sell our home in England, not to mention the huge amount of paperwork, least of all my Residency, so it wasn’t until April 2004 that we looked seriously into getting the children enrolled in a school.

We first tried to enroll them in the Saudi private school here but its admission date had long passed, and, to be honest, I don’t think my husband’s heart was in it.  His attitude was that the state school was good enough for him and his siblings’ families, and that he wanted his children fully integrated into the society to learn the etiquettes of living in a mixed Muslim society.  He went to the Ministry of Education who demanded the children’s report cards from their previous year of education, and all my husband could produce was the glowing annual report from the LEA, which wasn’t good enough for the man behind the desk.  He started talking about how our children had no Arabic or French in their reports, how they might have to start at the beginning and work their way up, to which my husband, replied that he would just home educate them in that case.  The man from the Ministry was aghast exclaiming that my husband would be breaking the law as home education was illegal in Algeria.  ‘In that case then, you and I will both go to prison’, my husband very calmly replied.  ‘I’ll go for home educating my children, and you’ll go for not allowing my children to attend school.’  This was not a response the man had expected and he relented and allowed my 11 year old son and 8 year old daughter to join the classes for their ages Alhamdulilah

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