Disclaimer: This is my vision and opinions about the current education system from my experiences and observations. I respect and admire all teachers and administrators who tirelessly work to provide the best form of education for their students. Having said that, I believe in a different approach to Islamic education and this article outlines my vision.
Recently, I read an article on virtualmosque.com entitled “A Second Look at Islamic Schools” by Lobna Mulla. A lot of her points and thoughts resonated with me as I read through the article. It is sad that many people have a negative perception when it comes to Islamic Schools and Islamic Education. I must admit that I am one of those people as well.
Growing up in a strict Islamic household and having many poor experiences as a student and teacher at Sunday and Islamic schools, I had lost my faith in Islamic schools and Islamic education at one point. I vented to my husband and friends that when I have kids, I would rather send them to a public school than an Islamic school.
But I took a step back and I realized that running away from Islamic education and schools is not the solution. Seeing such low attendance and participation in mosques and Islamic schools concerns me. It shows that more and more youth and Muslim families are choosing to stay away from Islamic education. Instead, they are choosing to go to public schools, which are not the best alternative either, having been there myself.
Therefore, we need to change our perception of Islamic education. As Sister Mulla stated in her article, Islamic schools have taken steps to make themselves more appealing and competitive. One of the steps she listed in her article is that many Islamic schools are run by principals and teachers who have proper education degrees and certifications. They also have extensive evaluation processes so that the schools are accredited by the respective states. This shows us that Islamic schools are trying to raise the bar and they are striving to get proper accreditation and standards for their schools.
While I agree that there has been a shift in Islamic schools to hire teachers and administrators who are qualified, it is simply not enough. There needs to be a change in the way we approach and teach Islamic education to our children. Traditional education systems offer workbooks, textbooks, and worksheets to teach various concepts like math, science, history, and language. There is very minimal hands-on experience for the child. From my personal experience, I have also observed that Islamic schools adapted this methodology of teaching Islamic studies to children through the use of books and worksheets.
Sadly, I cannot agree with this system. I believe that there should be a more hands-on approach to education. We should provide concrete materials and experiences for the children in the classroom so that they are excited and passionate about learning both secular subjects and Islamic subjects. And that is where my dream comes into play. Insha’Allah (God willing), I want to change the landscape of Islamic education. I want people to have positive associations with Islamic schools and education in general. And for that, I truly believe that Montessori Education will be a good synergy with Islamic Education.
To give some background about Montessori Education, it is a system that was founded by Maria Montessori. Her vision was to provide an education system that is set according to the child’s pace. She observed children for many years in different countries and through her observations, she had many revelations about education.
For one, a Montessori classroom looks very different from a traditional classroom. There are no grades in a Montessori school. Rather, the students are grouped according to age levels: The toddler classroom has children from 0 to 3 years of age, the primary classrooms have student from ages 3 to 6, and the elementary classrooms have children from 6 to 12.
In addition, the teacher gives lessons in small groups or individually rather than giving the lessons to a large group in front of the classroom. The children are allowed to choose their own work everyday, and the teacher does not give a lesson to a child until he or she is ready to have that lesson. To learn more about Montessori education and how it is different from traditional education, please visit the YouTube link below: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GcgN0lEh5IA&feature=youtu.be
Currently, I am doing my masters in Elementary Montessori Education at Washington Montessori Institute at Loyola University, Maryland. The more I learn about the Montessori theories and principles, the more I am convinced that Montessori education is compatible with Islamic studies. Lessons such as wudu (ritual washing), wearing a hijab, prayers, and hifdh (memorization) can be incorporated using the Montessori principles. Thus, my goal and vision is to create an Islamic Montessori school from the toddler program to the elementary program that will incorporate Islamic studies using the Montessori methods.
To give an example of how that will work, I will lay out some of my ideas below. For example, in many Islamic schools and Sunday schools, the topic of wudu is taught in a very intellectual manner. Often times, we go over a book on wudu and use flashcards to teach the children about the process. Once in a while we allow them to go to the bathroom to practice wudu but the sinks are not accustomed to accommodating wudu for the children. They struggle to do wudu because they can’t reach the tap or the sink or they can’t put their feet up on the sink in order to wash.
Therefore, one of my goals is to have wudu stations in the classroom for the child. We will use buckets, pitchers, and basin to do wudu in the classroom. The best thing about a primary Montessori classroom is that there is a huge emphasis on doing activities that are practical to a child’s life. For example, in Montessori education, the teachers give lessons on how to wash the table, wash their hands, brush their teeth, clean the dishes, mop the floor, and many more practical life activities! The children enjoy these activities because they see their parents doing these activities at home and they have a need to imitate them. But do not freak out because the Montessori classroom also does math, science, and reading as well!
But the most beautiful thing is that Montessori classroom allows for the child to experience and practice the practical aspects of their lives. And for a Muslim child, doing wudu and learning prayers is a practical part of life. So why not incorporate that into the classroom as a lesson and an activity that the child will enjoy?
This is one of the many ideas I have for my Islamic Montessori School. As Sister Mulla reiterated in her article, there is a huge shift to set the bar high for Islamic education in America. And I believe that my goal and vision for my Islamic Montessori School can add to raising Islamic schools from sub-standard education to highly sought-out education by the Muslim ummah (community) Insha’Allah.