Why I feel/think the way I do about racism

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. 

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Learning to read Urdu and Arabic

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.

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Thank goodness my parents filled my head with facts!

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.

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We can be many things!

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

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An afternoon in the Orangerie. When experts stand at the front and #JustTellThem with passion

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.


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Six habits of highly successful students, thanks to @AceThatTest and @J_MedinaUML

I came across a series of tweets on six habits of highly successful students by J Medina  I thought I’d collate them in a blog so I and others can easily refer to them when needed.

Link to the video which explains the above six habits.

Link to all the Learning Scientists’ videos

Link to Learning Scientists website.


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My hopes for diversity in the education profession; a blog for @BAMEedNetwork


Image courtesy of lekkyjustdoit at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The term diversity means something which signifies a range of different things, an assortment, a mixture etc. When we speak of diversity, we are referring to respecting the individual, we are referring to the uniqueness of each individual, we are referring to our individual differences but most importantly we are referring to acceptance of the individual. This acceptance also entails respecting and valuing the individual.

Diversity, equality and equity are interlinked. We are almost two decades into the 21st century but diversity, equality and equity still needs discussion and addressing. These are complex issues and there are no easy answers because we have only scratched the surface of the issue and haven’t even formulated all the questions yet. The best way to promote and celebrate a diverse society is through education and to do this, the profession needs to start by promoting diversity within itself.

These issues are complex and hence there will be no easy solutions or quick fixes. People sometimes put forward the idea of quotas to increase diversity. Again, we need to be very careful before introducing quotas. Baroness Doreen Lawrence was on an expert panel at the Charles Street Building, Sheffield Institute of Education, last year. One of the questions posed to the panel and audience concerned the attainment gap of BAME university students. The audience were asked to vote for one of the below which they felt should be the first action in addressing this.

  • Amend staff recruitment policies so staff are representative of the wider population
  • Accept that evidence suggests there is institutional racism and take measures to address it
  • Set up strong transition and progression routes and genuine aspirational pathways
  • Set BAME student recruitment quotas

Looking at the above four choices, which one do you think got the least votes?

Option 4 got the least number of votes (6%). Baroness Lawrence, too, said she did not agree with quotas and would go for Option 3 (which happened to be the one with the most votes). I also think that quotas are perhaps the wrong way to solve the diversity problem. One problem with quotas is that once you start a quota system and meet the quota, there may be a tendency to relax and think the problem has been solved.

So, what are my hopes for diversity in education?  I would like to have an education system where every individual is allowed to and has the resources and opportunities to access all that they need to in order to excel. I would like barriers removed so that more men feel they can go into teaching at early years and primary level, women feel they can go for leadership positions, every student (regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, income) has access to higher and further education. I would like us to really examine issues such as why people from disadvantaged white British backgrounds are least likely to access higher education and why female Bangladeshi graduates are less likely to be managers or professionals than male Bangladeshi graduates. I hope that equality, equity and diversity are promoted by treating by EVERYONE fairly. I hope there is equal access for everyone in all fields. I hope that we can help EVERYONE fight discrimination. I hope we will create environments where everyone can have a say; where people can speak up if they have been discriminated against, where people won’t be afraid to speak up thinking they may be thought of sexist, racist, etc. I hope that as a first step

“If we cannot now end our differences, at least we can help make the world  safe for diversity.” John F Kennedy

And in order to do that

“What we have to do…is to find a way to celebrate our diversity and debate our differences without fracturing our communities.” Hillary Clinton


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