SHAFAQNA – Irem Mumtaz lives in Birmingham with her husband and two children aged two and four. Instead of sending her children to school, she has decided to educate them at home as part of a growing movement of “home educators”. Irem previously worked as a Corporate Tax Advisor and has since embraced a role as full-time mother and educator.
How old were your children when you decided to resign and begin full-time home education?
My son was a year and two months and my daughter was just under three and half. The year before when I was on maternity leave for my son I had been getting into home education groups a bit more figuring out what that was all about. I thought when they’re old enough then I’ll home educate and when I went back to work I just thought “why I am doing this? I’m paying so much in childcare when I could be with my kids and someone else is raising them”, so that’s when my husband and I decided that I would resign and we got on with things.
Why did you decide to home educate?
Mostly because going out to the home educate groups I was able to see how well rounded the kids were. One of the big things for me is teaching morals to the kids and helping the community, which is why I do take them to food banks and refugee centres and they help out. That kind of thing, you can put it into your daily life, as opposed to sending your kids away to school for six, seven hours, and by the time you pick them up they’re completely tired and then having to figure that out once every few months or whatever. It’s not something you can include easily. Whereas for us it’s just part of normal life.
How did you find out about home education?
From a friend who actually doesn’t have any kids of her own but she’s very pro home education; a university friend. She mentioned it quite a few times in the past, but I never really looked in to it. Then when I was on maternity leave, plus we had moved into this area where home education seems to be a bit more alive on this side of Birmingham, I was seeing it more often, I thought “it’s not too bad”. We started going to loads of groups and we met lots of mums doing it. And I thought this is really do-able and there is such a diverse community out there. It’s not just you being stuck at home with your children, there’s a lot they could be getting on with.
What made you think home education was an interesting thing to pursue or investigate?
I think at the time I was just looking for activities for the kids to do with the kids, because I was on maternity leave at the time, my daughter was two. I was getting a bit bored of the usual children’s centre play groups. So it started off I guess more like that: “let’s go see what else is out there that the kids could be getting on with?” One of the first things I went to was ‘Down to Earth’ which the rangers run, the forest school, and at that time it was mostly just for home educators, or for people considering home education. I started speaking to a lot of mums there and the ones that I kind of know now, I met there, so that’s how I got out there.
What does home education mean to you?
A big thing to me is me raising my kids, which means it less about books, it’s more about life. And it’s about having moral values and being in a position where you’re helping the community and you’re more able to help, whilst at the same time still educating yourself, I think that’s a big part of home education, that you miss out on in schools. And of course books are important, and reading and writing are important. But from the books that I’ve read, especially from Maria Montessori, and from John Holts as well, kids don’t need six hours of structured work to be able to learn. They can actually do it in a lot less, and a lot of home education resources and research, if you look into it, the kids that have been home educated, end up doing better in life, proportionally, compared to the ones that went to school.
What kind of careers or life paths home educated adults taken?
I don’t know any personally, but what I know of home education and what I’ve read, the kids that have been home-educated learn to self-learn and self-discipline. They’re actually interested in learning and pursue their interests because they actually want to know about something as opposed to doing it because their teacher is going to be proud of them or because they are going to get a sticker for homework, and that’s why they do it, they go beyond the limits set by teachers, of wanting to learn.
Do you think these qualities or this lifestyle could make a person a better Muslim?
Yes, and especially with the moral side of it, that’s such a big thing in Islam, Zakat is one of the five pillars. But not just that, that emphasis on helping and having good manners. That came from one of the basic first teachings of the Prophet (saw), that he really really emphasised. And I think that can be done better at home. One of my friends who actually sends her daughter to school, when she was looking at school, one of the things she said before visiting schools was “don’t look at the school in itself, because they will know how to sell themselves, but look at the parents who are coming whose kids will be coming into the school. Because those parents, however they act, whatever morals they have, will then feed through to their kids, and that’s what your kids will be surrounded with”.
Do you think there is enough time and opportunity if a child goes to school to nurture these other aspects?
No, I really don’t think there is. With the friends whose kids go to school, from what they’ve told me, and a lot of them, this was the first year of the kids being in school, this was in reception, they basically said they’ve realised they’re losing their patience a lot more with their kids, snapping more at the kids, because by the time they get picked up and brought home from school they’re overtired, they’ve just had a full day, and they don’t really want to engage with the parents. Even that relationship with the parent slightly breaks down as well and changes.
Have you faced any resistance from family members?
Yes, only because I think for them the norm is “you go to school”, it wasn’t really something that was pushed on me or my siblings because my parents didn’t get the opportunity to educate themselves as much as they wanted, they both had to drop out of college. For them, that’s the way things are done, and I guess they grew up in that society which said “you need to go to uni, you need to go to school, you need to get these grades, you need to keep up”. And I guess you still get that in society, keeping up with the Jones.