Years ago, when I was young, my father told me about someone who worked in his office. What this gentleman was earning barely made ends meet. He had two daughters and was determined that they went to school. Pakistan, like other countries, has private as well as state schools. The state schools have a nominal/no fee. Many of these state schools operate two shifts, a morning and an afternoon one. This allows them to teach twice the number of children using the same facilities and staff. The gentleman I’m writing about, sent his daughters to one such school. One daughter went to the morning school and the other attended the afternoon shift. When the daughter attending the morning shift came back home she’d give the uniform to her sister who would then go to the afternoon shift. When she came back, the uniform would be washed and dried, ready for the next day. He said the only reason he could afford to send his daughters to school was because, firstly, the school had two shifts, and secondly, because the school had a uniform. If there hadn’t been a uniform then his daughters would’ve needed different sets of clothes each day which was beyond their means. Because of the two shifts his daughters shared the same uniform and none of their friends were any the wiser.
The other day I saw an advertisement for admission to a Pakistani school. The school provided free uniforms for students meeting certain criteria. I assume they are able to do this as they bulk buy and can offset the cost of supplying free uniforms. This is another example why I think schools having uniforms is a great idea. If you’re thinking to yourself that the cases I’ve quoted are those of schools in Pakistan and don’t apply to U.K. then spare a thought for the families using food banks, think of the girls/women dealing with period poverty and then you may agree with me that uniforms (with the caveat that they should be affordable) are a good idea.
Those of you who know me already know this. For those who don’t know me then it’s important that you know I’m a Muslim. My view on things are based on Islamic principles.
I’ve had numerous discussions about race and prejudice lately. I think in order to make my views clear it’s best I quote Prophet Mohammad ﷺ (peace be upon him). The following passage is taken from his ﷺ last sermon.
“There is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab, nor for a non-Arab over an Arab. Neither is the white superior over the black, nor is the black superior over the white — except by piety.”
This is why, as far as I’m concerned, people can be good or evil, racists or victims of racism. Skin colour does not come into it. Evil has to be defeated. Racism has to be fought. Victims need support. All this has to be done without letting the skin colour of the abuser/abused colour our judgment because no one has superiority over anyone else.
I’m very fortunate to have grown up in a household where different languages are spoken. I’ve grown up listening to Urdu, Punjabi and English. My father also speaks a bit of Farsi and my mother’s early education was in Sindhi. Being Muslims we all read the Quran which is in Classical Arabic.
I was taught to read Urdu and Arabic phonetically. The Urdu books which I was taught from had pictures as well as words. The Arabic ones didn’t. Do pictures help? I don’t think they do. Consider this picture
What would you say if I asked you, “What is this picture of?” You’d say orange. You may think that looking at the picture and the whole word, “orange” will help the child to “read” the word orange. This doesn’t work in Urdu. This picture may be of سنگترا or نارنجی or مالٹا depending upon the variety. So, unless you can “read” the word, the picture won’t help you. Fruits aren’t the only things which have more than one name in Urdu. Another example is names for relatives.
In English you would say this was a grandmother and grandfather playing with their granddaughter and grandson. In Urdu, however, it could be نانا and نانی playing with نواسا and نواسی or it could be دادا and دادی playing with پوتا and پوتی as there are different names for paternal and maternal grandparents and different names for the grandchildren too.
The other reason why it’s important to know the sounds of letters is that letters may look slightly different depending upon their position in the word. naureen written in Urdu looks like this نورین As you can see the “n” at the beginning looks slightly different from the one at the end.
We then come to Arabic. The Quran has no pictures so one needs to be able to read the words without the aid of pictures. Muslims all over the world learn to phonetically “read” the Quran in Arabic but not all can comprehend what they read without the aid of a translation.
Some of the debate on Twitter on phonics and reading seems to suggest that looking at pictures and knowing what’s happening is “reading”. In my opinion, it isn’t. Picture books and picturebooks have a place but they cannot replace teaching children to read using phonics. Once the phonics knowledge is sound (no pun intended!) comprehension is aided too as it reduces cognitive load when reading, especially when new words are encountered.
Every Saturday my daughter volunteers at a day care centre for the elderly. On weekends there is a reduced number of staff on duty and as she’s under 18 I was asked if I could accompany her. This I’m happy to do.
Last Saturday an elderly gentleman came in (let’s call him Brian) and sat down besides me and we got talking. When, during the course of the conversation, I told Brian I used to live in Karachi, he became very excited. As it turned out he used to work for a multi national and spent seven years in Karachi in the 1960s. Brian said that although he sometimes meets people from Pakistan he rarely meets anyone from Karachi. We then passed a pleasant hour or so chatting about the city we both knew and loved. He told me where he first used to live (not a million miles away from my childhood home) and where he subsequently moved to (not a million miles away from where my parents now live). Brian was very interested in hearing about all the places he used to frequent; were they still there, had they changed much? He asked about Elphinstone Street, a prestigious shopping area of Karachi in those days. He asked if the tram still ran. He wanted to know if Maripur Road was still the main road in the city. He talked about his trip to Lyalpoor, a city in Punjab. If my parents had not filled my head with facts, if I did not have knowledge of the old Karachi, I would have had to say,”I don’t know” to all his questions; Elphinstone Street is now Zaibunnissa Street and the tram service was discontinued years ago. Maripur Road is no longer the main road. In fact, I can’t remember if I’ve ever driven or be driven down Maripur Road. Lyalpoor is now called Faisalabad. Yes, I could have googled these places and worked out that I did know them albeit by a different name but that would have involved retrieving my bag from where I had stored it, taking my phone out and then typing these names in. I’m sure if that’s what I had done then the animated conversation Brian and I had would not have happened, for stopping every two minutes to goggle stuff is not conducive to chatting over coffee and biscuits! So, I am really glad my parents filled my head of facts about the history of the city they call home because these facts helped me connect with this elderly gentleman.
Lovely architecture, Elphinstone Street (now called Zaibunnissa Street). This is a very old building and Brain would have seen it when he lived in Karachi.
The above picture is doing the rounds on Twitter. I assume people who like it think it shows empowering girls or that it’s a feminist statement. As far as I’m concerned it’s nothing of the sort!
Let’s look at the logo first. “Forget princess” Why? What message does this give a girl who does want to dress up as a princess? Is this the equivalent of the dumb blond jokes? Is this saying to little girls that if you want to dress up as a princess then you are somehow inferior to someone who wants to be an astrophysicist? Is it so hard to imagine a little girl who loves dressing up as Cinderella AND wants to be an astrophysicist? Does it have to be one or the other? Would it not have been better to just have “I want to be an astrophysicist” as the slogan?
Secondly, does being a feminist mean we should only aim to have highly academic education/careers? What if the slogan was “I want to be a Reception teacher, a TA, a paramedic” or, shock, horror, “a mother”?! Are any of these choices in any way inferior? But I bet you if the slogan had said I want to be a mother there would have been outrage on social media! Some people may say that these are objectionable because there aren’t equivalent ones for boys. Two wrongs don’t make a right; let’s have a range for girls AND boys which make it ok to say that I want to be a father/mother and the others I’ve mentioned above.
Now, let’s look at the picture. Am I the only one who feels slightly uncomfortable looking at the picture of a little girl who, with those outsized sunglasses, looks to be older than what her age may be. So, little girls putting on huge sunglasses and looking older than their age is ok as long as they’re saying “Forget Princess”?
My other objection to this slogan is that it turns dressing up as a princess from something that is innocent and age appropriate to something which is somehow wrong. My earliest memory of buying a book is from when I was 5 or 6. My father picked me up from school to take me to the dentist. On our way there he promised that once I’d been seen by the dentist he would take me to a book shop which was next door to the dental clinic and I could buy a book. I spent the time at the dentist thinking of the books I wanted to buy. We then went next door and I went from one shelf to another and finally settled on “Sleeping Beauty”. My daughters have loved dressing up and I’ve bought every Disney princess costume there has been! I went on to study Applied Genetics, my eldest is studying medicine, my middle daughter is applying to medicine and my youngest told me the other day that she really likes physics! Yes, a very small sample size and yes, anecdotal evidence but reading about and dressing up as a princess hasn’t harmed any of us. Let little girls be little girls and if they want to dress up as a princess then let them. Now, that really is feminism!
As far as the above ad is concerned, I’ve fixed it for you!
“Women have to be allowed to be many things.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The people I follow on Twitter are mostly educators but I do follow some others as well. One such person is the author Alexandria Szeman. Every Saturday Alexandria chooses one painter and tweets their work. On 4th March 2017 the artist she featured was Anna Boch who was a Belgian Impressionist (1848-1936). Anna Boch was a name I was not familiar with. I loved all the paintings Alexandria tweeted (you can see them here). Alexandria and I started chatting about impressionists and as Monet is my all time favourite we started talking about him. The National Gallery in London has quite a few Monets and whenever I go to the Gallery I make a point to go to the rooms where these are displayed. I then told Alexandria about the other place I visited in order to see Monet’s work; the Musee de L’Orangerie in Paris.
After Alexandria and I finished chatting I started thinking of the time I had been to Paris and had visited the museum. On a previous visit I had visited the Louvre and I also knew about Musee d’Orsay. The trip during which I had visited Louvere hadn’t been for the express purpose of going there. I happened to find myself in Paris and thought since I was in Paris with a free afternoon I should go and see the Mona Lisa. So I did. The trip to Musee de L’Orangerie was different. This was a trip I planned for the sole purpose of going to the Orangerie.
You must be wondering where I am going with this. Bear with me, it will become clear. As I said I did not know a place like Musee de L’Orangerie even existed. The first time I heard about it was when I attended a lecture at my daughter’s school. The lecture was delivered by Professor Anthony Slinn. Professor Slinn has spent over 30 years lecturing and now gives over 200 presentatons a year. Professor Slinn is an exceptional speaker. He stood at the front, facing his audience (we were sat in rows!). He enthralled us with his wit and intelligence and his meticulously researched presentation. You could hear the passion in his voice. He told us about Monet and we listened. He brought the topic to life. Though I love impressionists and especially Monet, I would never have gone to Paris just to visit the Orangerie if it had not been for Professor Slinn. And why did I do that? Because I was listening to someone who is an expert, someone who is passionate about his subject. And sitting there, “passively” listening to him, I became passionate too. Many people think that when teachers stand at the front and “just tell” their students it must be a boring experience for the students. Not so. If the teacher is an expert and passionate about their subject then this “just telling” stuff makes students passionate too; passionate enough to jump on the Eurostar and spend the afternoon in the Musee de L’Orangerie
The video below doesn’t do jsutice to the exhibit but it may give you an idea of the treassure that was awaiting me in the Orangerie because a passionate expert transmitted his passion to me.