Hannah Smith is the Co Founder of fledgling Think Tank–Initiative For Muslim Community Development and is its Director of Research.She holds a 1st class undergraduate MSci degree in Geophysics from Imperial College London, a Master of Science from University of Michigan in Geology and a Post Graduate Certificate of Education in Teaching Secondary Science and Physics from the Institute of Education, London. Hannah Smith, is currently a teacher in Harbourne Secondary School, Birmingham.
Educating British Muslim Children at Home
As more and more Muslims in Britain wake up to the failures of the State school system home education is increasingly being analysed as an alternative. Many families have been perturbed by the neoliberalism-inspired compulsory sex education, the attacks on hijab wearing children at ever earlier ages by State Education oversight body Ofsted, and the Trojan Horse witchunt of Muslim educationists by the Department of Education. It’s little wonder then that Muslims, sensing the mainstream education system in the UK is not fit for purpose for the wholesome ethical nurture of their offspring, are exploring options that could give them greater control over their children’s destinies.
The education of children and young people is nonetheless still largely synonymous with schools; so it can come as quite a surprise to most parents to hear that it is possible to educate children at home, and even more so that there are thousands of parents in the UK currently “home-schooling”. Hannah Smith a British Revert Muslim and teacher at a secondary school in Birmingham says “As a mother of a toddler, home-schooling is not something I had considered as an option here in the UK, but having stumbled across inspiring communities of home-educators and Muslim home-educators in my local city, I now consider it a viable and attractive option that may allow a Muslim family to more fully realise their Islamic ideals of family and education.”
Education, as it stands in UK law, is something that parents are obliged to provide either at school or elsewhere, but there is no legal obligation that a child must attend a school according to the 1996 Education Act. This is however, not true of all countries, in 11 European countries it is a legal right, but in some such as the Netherlands and Germany, there is a compulsory requirement to attend school, and those parents that have opposed the law have been threatened with having their children taken away. Out of the 9.5 million children of school age in the UK, estimates put the number of children being home-educated between 35,000 to 50,000 including a 65% increase in the past 6 years; and there is no sign of the trend for home-education slowing.
Hannah Smith believes the reasons for home-educating are as varied as families in the UK, and include a combination of reasons including bullying, lack of resources in mainstream schooling for special needs children, dissatisfaction with mainstream school curriculums, environments and methods (e.g. poor behaviour, dull curriculums, too much emphasis on testing), ideological reasons, illness, desire for closer family relationships, and even underhand efforts by schools to force low achieving and poorly behaving students to be home-educated to improve school league tables. She says “In the on-line and physical communities that I have explored in my local city, I have found all these reasons and more cited by Muslim and non-Muslim educators alike.
One of the strongest reasons for home-educating emphasized by parents in my experience, is the desire for a more engaging and meaningful education that holistically prepares children for adult life; an education that nurtures a child’s unique talents and interests, an education that goes beyond ten academic subjects, and an education that provides more than a superficial treatment of extra-curricular subjects and experiences. Additionally, many Muslim home-educators feel that the spiritual, moral and social aspects and achievements of school are inadequate considering the proportion of time children spend in them while growing up. Rather than observing an improvement in children’s morals and manners, parents are often aggrieved when their children are bullied and exposed to or become involved with drugs, gang culture and sexual activity; aspects of schooling that they consider unacceptable and outweigh the positive aspects of school mixing. Muslim home-educators also find that the curriculum flexibility and greater efficiency of one-to-one and small-group teaching allows greater time to cover Islamic studies curricula and for building community, service and charitable activities into every day life.”
Hannah argues that “the manner in which families choose to home-educate is similarly varied, but very rarely is it a case of a child sitting at home all-day every day doing school-type work. Some parents choose to follow ready-made off-the-shelf curriculums complete with resources and textbooks, while others choose to follow the interests of the child entirely, a philosophy and method known as ‘autonomous home education or ‘unschooling’, although most parents I have met pick and mix various textbooks, resources, and outside activities and lessons. There is a fantastic selection of out-of-home group lessons and activities in many cities ranging from art and craft to forest and nature activities to science lessons, and all purpose-built for home-educated children. Some of these activities are led by parents at minimal cost and others are taught by professionals; the motivations behind such classes and clubs being tri-fold: to provide opportunities for social interaction and fostering friendships between children, to provide access to professional tuition, and to widen educational opportunities in an economical and efficient manner. Muslim home-educators supplement their children’s schedules with Arabic and Islamic Studies taught in the home and via individual and group tuition; often utilizing the standard mosque after-school and weekend provision.”
Hannah Smith concludes that “In light of the issues mainstream schooling poses to Muslim families living in the UK, and in view of the paucity of good Islamic schools that offer a truly effective moral and spiritual education for British children, home education in my eyes presents an attractive alternative method of educating Muslim children in this country. It opens up opportunities for Muslim families to build deeper relationships between parent and child, to build better relationships family to family in the local community of Muslims and non-Muslims, it enables young people to learn in both greater depth and breadth in Islamic and secular subjects, and it allows young people to dedicate more time to charitable and service activities whilst importantly minimising their pre-mature exposure to vice and immorality.”
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