Community Education & Science Reflections

A Call to Education Salman Khan

It was my senior year in high school and it would be an understatement to say that I was ill prepared for the college application process. I was a good student, but like many of us, I never really grasped how my high school career would impact the rest of my life. From the SATs to the actual application, I was floundering through. I took the SATs as if it were just any other exam like the annual TerraNova exam. I didn’t realize how much really rested on this one exam. The SATs would decide what college I went to, the people I would be interacting with, the educational level I would receive, and ultimately, the jobs I would be offered.

I had misunderstood the entire college application process itself. I was oblivious to the steps, the applications, the essays, and essentially the entire process. It was a mess and ultimately the lack of knowledge on how to attack the applications, the lack of focus on the SATs, and the relaxed attitude in regards to GPA, left me haphazardly prepared for the application process. Regrettably, I am not an exceptional case. My story is just one of millions of Muslims within the United States. Parents, school faculty, and guidance counselors want the best for students, but when the process to apply isn’t properly understood, students will not achieve their full potential. This translates into the following: mismatched college choices, students paying way more than they should for college, students majoring in the wrong subjects, and ultimately, the jobs students receive.

Of course, there is always room to excel regardless of the college you attend, but it would be silly to discredit the importance of getting into a top school. For example, a graduate from an Ivy League school with just a bachelor’s degree tends to receive much better job offers in terms of quality, salary, and prestige, in comparison to a state or non-ivy school graduate. It is an investment in the student’s future for not only themselves, but for their family as well.

The lack of urgency we as a community have in regards to things as simple as the SATs is alarming and regrettable. Our students are brilliant and have the capacity to excel well beyond their means, but the problem is that we do not show them why or how they can excel. We do not explain to them the importance of exams like the SATs. We tell them to study and we think our job ends there. The reality is that we have committed a grave injustice by not showing our students the real benefits of doing well in school. The lifestyle, networking opportunities, and quality of education are all the fruits of attending a top school. Our objective should not be that all our students attend Ivy League schools, but that each one of our students try their hardest and reach their maximum potential.

The Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him), taught us to aim for the best and have ihsaan (excellence) in everything that we do. This is a tradition that we must instill in our students, so that they can rest assured that they did their very best. Education is an Islamic obligation and a Prophetic tradition. The benefits of seeking knowledge are immense. As the Prophet ﷺ informs us, the one who seeks knowledge is honored by the rest of creations, because of their high stature in the eyes of Allah (Abu Dawud, 1631). Our students need to understand that doing well in school is a form of worship and is in fact an Islamic obligation.

We as a community need to start taking education in this country seriously. We need to prepare our students properly for college so that when they graduate and enter the real world, they can excel. And when our students excel, our communities will thrive inshaAllah (God willing).

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  • thank you for sharing, it exactly what i needed to know, as a university freshman your post completely changed my perspective of why and how hard i should study….. jazakallahu khair

  • Jazakk Allah Khair. This post cleared a lot of things for me personally–and I pray that high school/college students will also benefit from this. It gives a very new perspective on education which many Muslims tend to forget about. Well done. Mashallah!

  • as salaamu ‘alaikum.

    This is an enlightening paper:

    The Pedagogical Divide: Toward an Islamic Pedagogy

    Nadeem Memon, PhD Candidate, OISE/UT
    Qaiser Ahmad, M.Ed, OISE/UT

    The past decade of educational research on Islamic education has increasingly adopted language and trends common to mainstream market-driven educational practices. In the push toward making Islamic schools more effective, mainstream conceptions of effectiveness, efficiency, and
    accountability have been employed without critical reflection on the values they promote.

    Several issues and concerns relating both to the purpose of an Islamic education and the values promoted through neo-liberal educational practices, call for a philosophical inquiry. This paper is divided into two sections. The first section addresses the purpose of mainstream public
    education and the neo-liberal agenda from a critical pedagogical perspective. The second section critically examines how Muslim educators in North America have attempted to negotiate an Islamic education within prevailing discourses of mainstream educational practices. Issues of the purpose of an Islamic education and the criteria, standards, and norms used to determine the
    quality of Islamic education will be addressed. It will be argued that without such critical analysis, Islamic schooling reproduces existing dominant values and promotes, often unintentionally, success in the market economy as an end rather than a means. In contrast, we propose a foundational return to an Islamic pedagogy that transforms the heart and brings out one’s humanity through the enactment of an Adamic education based on an Islamic epistemological framework.

  • Actually if I may offer my opinion (non-US, although a similar but perhaps lesser importance on the last exam in high school also prevails), I don’t see this issue as one relating directly to education. It is an issue relating to the overlay between schooling for attainment of Education, and the mainstream education System for deciding who gets to go where for additional study. One could be the most qualified in terms of potential, attitude, and behaviour, for the best school, yet in that single test or process not do so well to demonstrate it. Demonstration is not the same as what someone actually possesses, and the mismatch can go both ways.

    When I was in school, I studied academically at two levels (which I could, because Allah blessed me with sufficient intelligence). One level was what I considered ‘true’ studying, which is learning the subject with the intention of actually understanding it and becoming knowledgeable in it. The other level was learning the subject in order to do well in it during examinations, so that on paper I also looked good. I did this when I realised that sometimes what does well in the exam paper, isn’t very well related to what I might do or the effort I might put in, for true learning. Yet the paper scores are of the utmost importance if I wanted to have my pick of universities. After that ‘exam gate’, I could focus more purely on just learning the subject, but before it, I must study to score in exams.

    If you can, I would advise you to do your best to balance both. The certificate, because it gives you choice, a highly important thing in competitive educational environments such as the US. But the actual learning as well, because this is your formative years, and the habits you cultivate and what you learned during it (not just academic but extra-curricular and hobbies too) will help you in the period immediately after you graduate (first job) and boosts your learning in the longer-term. Peers who focused only on the certificate for their entire schooling life, will fall behind at this stage.

    (I am assuming of course that – since we are Muslims – we are talking about useful employment, not those jobs where you do little that is useful and skim off the work and ideas of others.)

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