Marrakesh homeschoolers, are you out there?

The school year is over, Karima just completed 3rd grade and Amin kindergarten.  My usual ambivalence towards conventional modern schooling, and the Moroccan school system remains.  On the one hand, both kids are learning Arabic and French.  The teachers are loving and kind, competent and doing their best with 30+ kids per class.  My kids go to what is purportedly the best school in Marrakesh.  And it’s true that the students I have seen from there do stand out, both academically and as having some extra spark in their personalities.

However my husband and I are getting an inner calling that it is time for change, major change.  We are thinking along the lines of a homeschooling cooperative, where small groups of children (5-6) can receive good quality, personalized instruction from parents and tutors.

One of the main reasons we are living here in Morocco is so that our children can receive a deep grounding in the Islamic tradition.  We want the children to spend a good deal of their time, especially these younger years, chanting and memorizing the Quran.  We want them to receive transmition of sacred knowledge from an illuminated being, a spiritual guide who can inspire in them great love for God.  This should be the top priority, and at the moment, it’s not.  They study “Islamic Ed” in class, and there is some benefit.  But Quran memorization is assigned as homework, then tested in class.  That’s not really how we want the kids to see Quran, one more thing they will get in trouble for not learning by heart.

We also think that the children can keep up with, if not exceed, the Moroccan curriculum for Arabic and French via an approach that is more based on the communicative method.  As a product of Moroccan schooling, I can’t tell you how many hours I spent learning Arabic grammar.  But never once did I have any sort of in-class discussion in Arabic, never once did I read a great work of Arabic literature and give my opinion on it (apart from the Quran, I’ve only read one Arabic book cover to cover and in my mind there is something wrong with a school system that is not focused on reading).  So for all my years studying Arabic grammar, I’d like to say I’m fluent, but truth is I’m not.  It feels unnatural for me to speak Arabic and I probably can’t speak 2 complex sentences error-free.  In fact, when you speak to most Moroccan students, they say Arabic is their least favorite subject (math and science are usually their favorites).  Most of my friends who are very fluent in Arabic claim to have picked up their fluency from watching Arabic cartoons!

We envision a language class based on communication: teacher asks students what they did on the weekend, and doesn’t correct their grammar when they answer, instead she responds to the content.  That gives the student confidence that she has communicated successfully in the target language.  The method should be based on reading, lots and lots of interesting, age-appropriate books.  Games such as Bingo and board games are a great way to acquire lots of lexical chunks without pressure.  Skits are another fun and creative way to live a language.  After all, we learn a language for two basic reasons, to communicate orally and to read the best works in that language.  We do not learn a language to become expert grammarians.

Take my own example in English.  My good mother taught me to read when I was 7.  It just so happened that I got hepatitis and was forced to stay home from school for a whole month.  Most productive month of my childhood!  My mother patiently taught me to read from good old “Ted and Sally”,  “See Spot Run”, and all that.  Thank you mama!  By the end of the month I could read.  Henceforth, my sister and I received a continuous supply of good English books that my parents hauled over from the US.  All the Little House on Prairie books.  The Narnia series.  The Lord of the Ring series and so many others.  My father read to us out loud every night too. (Just one more chapter, pleeeease!)  We were not distracted by television, we did not have one.  No computers either back in the middle ages of my youth.  (Although maybe if we’d had a TV, I could have improved my Modern Standard Arabic from the cartoons!)

I never attended a formal class in English until I got to university.  In my freshman year, I thought I should take Freshman English, to make up for what I’d missed out on.  The first day, the professor convinced me not to take the class.  “You’ll be really bored,” he said.  Instead, I took the CLEP test that gave me college credit for both levels of Freshman English.  I am not saying this to boast, I am just using this as an example of how powerful reading is.  We can’t overemphasize its importance.

Back to the homeschooling co-0p idea: the kids should be able to explore creative outlets as part of their daily activities.  Art, music, drama and sports.  School nowadays focuses so much on the left brain.   What about the right brain, and the rest of the body?  To paraphrase Ken Robinson, it’s as if modern education sees our bodies as  just transportation for our brains, slightly to one side.  Our son Amin is the prototypical right-brainer.  He loves to dance, he is someone who needs to dance every day.  He puts on his favorite music, something like Ravi Shankar tabla music, or Chinese sword dance music, and he just dances, usually with no one watching.  He is also the boy who is so drawn to images, he can “read” comic books for a good 45 minutes at a time, i.e. just look at the pictures and get a whole story from them.  At the same time, he’s not a very language-oriented person.  Concepts like “tomorrow” or “next week”, questions like “what day is today?” are hard for him to conceptualize.  I’m loathe to send him to the Moroccan school system that will have him sitting at a desk up to seven hours a day, learning abstract notions in two foreign languages.

I also think that when the kids aren’t so caught up in school, there is lots of time to explore.  Our children don’t even know their own city that well.  We’d like to take them to see all of Morocco, and eventually another country like Mali or Senegal.

I could go on and on, and I probably will in future posts.

Calling all Marrakesh parents interested in alternative homeschooling!  If you resonate with any part of this post, please contact me to begin a conversation about an alternative education cooperative.   It’s a lot of work, but it’s a creative project of massive importance.  Please write me at nora@clcmorocco.org and please repost this on any relevant sites.

17 thoughts on “Marrakesh homeschoolers, are you out there?

  1. I feel you 100% on this and I actually know two people HSing in Marrakech. I will introduce through email. I started a Casablanca Homeschooling Association so that these same HS Co-op options would be there when I am ready. I truly believe that even in the best of school situations, that HSing can be a truly magical and much more effective educational route.

  2. Christine says:

    Hi Morocco Mama – What is your take on the curriculum at the American School in Marrakech? We are considering a move from the US to Marrakech (hubby is from Marrakech) and I want to be able to participate in my daughter’s education, so that seems like the only logical school for us (as I am not fluent in Arabic or French). Our daughter is just starting kindergarten. I do try to introduce many teachable moments but I am not ready to home school at this point in our lives. BTW your perspective on Moroccan schools’ lack of reading for enrichment is enlightening… my husband (a product of Moroccan education) recently informed me that he has never read an entire book! This was shocking to me, coming from the the US, but understandable now in the context of your post.

  3. Barbara says:

    that was in 84 and you were five when you learned to read. That was so sweet. You were ready and you memorized the whole words. I never had to bother with phonics.

    love,
    mama

  4. Abdurrahman says:

    This is a brave undertaking. I agree that the educational system here — both public and private — generally leaves a lot to be desired. Besides what you mention above, it would be wonderful if schooling could also help young people develop “a democratic mentality” –a sense of civil society, which this country is going to need more and more if, as its younger generation seems to be demanding, it moves more and more in the direction of democracy. (Ironically, this is hard for the American School to do — in answer to Christine’s question above — since its prices automatically make it a place for children of the elite.), If kids are being taught either directly or indirectly at school that, for example, cleaning up the trash in a neighborhood or alongside a public road is only the job of the lowest street-cleaners so that it’s OK to throw your empty juice bottle or cookie wrapper wherever, then it ultimately won’t much matter if a few things are changed in the constitution — the “privileged class” mentality will continue.

  5. Melanie says:

    Hi Nora, I think it’s a great idea. A lot of friends here home educate, following the ‘unschooling’ model, which means they mostly don’t teach or have classes (unless the child chooses to study something that the parent can’t help with, ie. learning a language), and the children have kept their enthusiasm for learning and seem to be doing very well. The main difference to a school-based education seems to be that the child isn’t forced to do things, but follows his or her interests with support, guidance and resources from the parent; and this results in children who seem to have confidence and security and who think for themselves. The eldest child I know, who is 16 now, has just done his GCSEs (exams done at 16 years old), and I was impressed with how he went off to revise without being told and without complaining! And the level of knowledge generally is amazing – although the ability to write and spell isn’t always so good. But it is very different to a formal education and can be very challenging for friends and relatives of the family, neighbours and even the parents sometimes as they wonder if they are doing the right thing. For instance, all the children have been allowed to decide when they want to learn to read and the age has varied from about 8 to about 11, but the older ones now help the younger ones to learn to read which is lovely. There’s a good organisation in the UK – Education Otherwise – whichh has lots of resources and information – see http://www.education-otherwise.net. Good luck with your search for families and I hope it all goes very well; it sounds very exciting. Love Mel x

  6. salaam aleikoum nora,
    I think it is a great and very needed thing you plan. i wish you Allah’s blessings for it and I will write you an email about further thoughts, inchaalah.

  7. That is exciting news. I have been homeschooling my kids for three years and we are heading into another year. I can’t give much guidance on homeschooling in Morocco because I do it in the US, but if you have any questions in terms of resources I am here for you. Insha’Allah you will love homeschooling. The first year can be the hardest, so don’t give up. That’s my best advice.

  8. MarocMama says:

    Great idea! If and when we make the big move this is something I would seriously consider with my sons. It’s true about Morocco not being a culture of reading. My husband never read a book in Arabic – ever. He’d never read a complete book until he came here and read one in English (his 3rd language!) It’s so strange for me to even fathom never having read a book until the age of 27!!

  9. Shauna(Amal in Morocco) says:

    Salaam sister, I was wondering if you ever formed a co op for the Hsing? I would love to help out and teach a preschool class….I have alot of experience in that age group and miss teaching so much. Please let me know how I can help in any way

    • Salams, thank you for our kind offer…we are doing a co-op but it ended up being for older kids ages 9-13. I am sending my younger ones to school and homeschooling only my 9-year-old. But perhaps we could organize a group for 4-5-year-olds with some fun activities. Let’s talk soon insha Allah.

  10. Lisa says:

    Assalaam aleikum Nora,
    My friend Fatima Zahra from the Zawiya Touroug told me you used to live there. I tried to e-mail you but it doesn’t seem to work. I’m in Canada planning to come and live in Tzizgahinn for some time inshallah, not far from Rachidia. We have 4 kids under 6 yrs old, and I’d love to get more insight about how life is there, what it’s like for a foreigner to come there, advice, info, etc…
    I’d love to exchange e-mails with you.
    May Allah keep you safe and bless your family.
    Lisa

  11. Mari Rondeli says:

    I will be joining you homeschooling in Marrakech in couple of years, hopefully. We are still trying to figure a way out to move in Marrakech.

  12. aayah says:

    I am a homeschooling mother in the States. However, my husband is Moroccan, and we plan on moving back to Morocco in the next few years. My understanding, however, is that homeschooling is illegal and not recognized in Morocco. I would love to continue h/s-ing once we move. Can you give me some direction on how this works in Morocco? Thank you.

    Aayah

    • I don’t think you’d have any trouble homeschooling here. If there were any issues you could say that your child is attending American school online. There are many French kids here who do online schooling connected to the French system called CNED. Given all the children who are REALLY not in school and who are working from a young age, I think your children would be in a completely different category and not given any trouble. Good luck Aayah.

      • aayah says:

        thank you for your response. i guess my concern is more with having their education recognized with a high schooll diploma so that they can go on to college afterward. Here in the states I am allowed to issue the diploma myself. But w/o any type of formal acceptance of HSing in Morocco, I fear that my educating them at home will be in vain. Side note, I am traveling back to Morocco next month for a few months. I would be interested in perhaps meeting you and speaking in person. I am also excited to visit the Amal Center!

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