How to choose an Arabic school

How to choose an Arabic School

By Zaynab Hamdi and Fatima Khaled

I wrote about why I’m not a fan of Arabic schools and I said I would write a follow up on the issues with some solutions on how parents could make better decisions on where to enrol their children. I spoke to Fatima Khaled, the headteacher of award winning Peace School about how to choose a good Arabic school. She is someone I know personally who is incredibly passionate about teaching Arabic effectively.

Fatima Khaled (PGCE) is a qualified Arabic and French language teacher with 19 years of teaching experience who sits on numerous exam boards for Arabic. Fatima works with Goldsmiths University of London in delivering certified Arabic programs and in professional development with Arabic teachers to expand creativity in their teaching and student learning. 

There can be benefits to Arabic supplementary schools if you find the right one but there are some key things to look for in a supplementary school that are crucial for parents to know.

1. Find out the headteacher's qualifications and their approach to learning

There are two types of supplementary school headteachers that look similar but are very distinct. Both of them, with all good intentions, will decide to set up an Arabic School maybe for sadaqa jariya or because they want to do something for the Muslim community, and teaching Arabic/Qur’an is an incredibly noble thing to do. However one person will be under the assumption that they know exactly how to teach Arabic without needing any extra professional development (mostly because they’re Arab), and the other person will be under the assumption that education is constantly evolving and so they need to keep up to date with the latest training and development. For one, education is a pursuit that they themselves need to constantly be engaged in and for the other, it’s an easy side hobby.

There are several things you can look at when choosing an Arabic school such as parents involvement, quality of teachers and students participation. However you should also ask about the headteachers involvement within the field of education. You can gauge this through whether the headteacher attends courses and conferences on education, or how often the educational curriculum is updated. Are they using the exact same books from when the school was first opened?  You can also ask what provisions are there for advanced students and ask for examples of educational success. Have there been projects that students have worked on that can be showcased? Can the educational results of the school be demonstrated?

2. Ask about how the school ensures parents are involved

One of the most difficult things to work with are parents who assume that 90 minutes of Arabic a week is enough on it’s own without any consolidation throughout the week. Parents need to be involved in their child’s learning otherwise it’s like they’re looking for cheap, guilt free babysitting. Parents need to ensure that any homework is completed and that they are keeping up to date with their child’s progress otherwise your child will be in a class of students who aren’t really progressing.

At Peace School teachers have Whatsapp groups with parents from the classes to ensure regular communication, and that parents are helping their children with their learning. If you as a parent are unwilling to commit time to your child’s Islamic/Arabic learning then the question to ask yourself is what are you hoping for out of sending your child to Arabic school?

3. Pay the fees on time

This is something that many supplementary schools struggle with. Parents who want their children to learn about Islam but yet they don’t want to pay their fees on time.

There are some parents who when they get called up on late fees will argue that their child hasn’t learnt anything. School fees are not dependent on a child’s progress. If there is a contract that has been signed and you have paid for a service for someone to take care of your child for a couple of hours, they need to be paid for their time.

A child’s progress is affected by what happens at home and as a parent you cannot offload the entire responsibility of teaching your child onto a teacher.

4. Ask about the hiring process for teachers

How are teachers hired at the school? Is it based on qualifications or experience? What training do teachers receive. Ask what the hiring process is for the teachers and how often are there teacher training sessions? How much support are teachers given? How many students are assigned to one teacher and are there any assistants?

If you are a non Arab then it’s important that the teacher can speak English for both you and your child. If the class is for native Arab speakers then speaking English won’t be as necessary however even then it’s important to check how clean that teacher’s Arabic is. Being a native Arab speaker doesn’t mean they can’t make mistakes in using clean non dialect Arabic.

Check the quality of the teachers before choosing a school.

5. Look at how classes are set up

What kind of technology is available for teaching? Most Arabic schools rent out public schools on the weekend to teach and so the facilities depend on their contract with the school. Some schools are more generous than others. Are there interactive whiteboards/projector screens or is it a simple whiteboard and pen available? Are there resources to deliver creative lessons? As great as old school learning can be, being able to deliver power points and interactive sessions makes a big difference when it comes to teaching children.

Ask how the school accommodates different age groups as well as native and non native Arab speakers. Are the classes entirely in Arabic? Are the timings for the sessions reasonable for the age groups? Or are 5 year olds being made to do a straight 90 minutes of quran?

6. How effective is the curriculum?

As of yet I haven’t come across an established foolproof widely used curriculum for teaching Arabic to under 16s. The majority of schools design their own curricula with their own exams. In the UK we do have the Arabic GCSE however it’s considered too easy for Arab speakers but too difficult for non Arabs because of the speaking exam.

With this I would say to people to manage their expectations on what students can gain from supplementary schools. Speaking Arabic is considered to be difficult especially because there is no environment where people by default speak modern standard Arabic, and so realistically Arabic schools can give your child a good level of proficiency in understanding and writing Arabic based on the curriculum that they’re taught.

Curricula are designed to reflect the needs of the students environment and should be revised and updated every few years by evaluating what students got out of it and what they didn’t. When considering a school to enroll your child ask for clarity on where your child can expect to be (provided the effort is put in) and ask if this has been demonstrated in older students.

The reason I spoke to Fatima Khaled specifically for this post is because for as long as I’ve known her she is constantly trying to improve as a teacher through training and research. She has never relied on being a native Arabic speaker as a qualification for what she does and within her teaching there has always been an underlying emphasis of genuine care for her students. Everyone has that one teacher that they never forgot. The teacher who inspired a love of learning, who taught them confidence and independence as well as academic knowledge. When it comes to Arabic which is so directly linked to a young Muslims relationship with Allah, it is so important that you consciously choose the best Arabic school for them.

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