AAISHAH’S CHOICE: Muslim Home Education in Australia

Record: Rebecca English, “Aaishah’s choice: Muslims choosing home education for the management of risk” in Other Education: The Journal of Educational Alternatives 5, no. 1 (2016): 55-72. [Article]

Summary: In this article, English, a Lecturer in Education at Queensland University of Technology, analyzes an interview with an Australian Muslim woman who home educates her children.

There is very little existing research on Muslim home education, but English did find two relevant studies: Saghir (2011) and Habibullah (2004). These studies argue that Muslim families home educate primarily because of their desire to provide religious instruction. In this regard, they are similar to the Christian homeschoolers that dominate in the US.

The interviewee, Aaishah, is a middle-class, Muslim woman who has been home educating two of her three children (ages 3, 6, and 9) for three years. Aaishah was born in Australia in 1976 to Pakistani parents. She studied to became a teacher and worked in the local Muslim school from the late 1990s to the mid-2000s. She resigned from the school because of a strengthening in her religious convictions that caused her to become uncomfortable with the mixing of genders (among both students and faculty) that occurred at the school. She married her husband in Pakistan, and she lived there with him for several years before returning to Australia to live in the same city as her parents.

Racial/ethnic, religious, and cultural conflict is the first theme that English identified in the interview. Aaishah says, “In this day and age everything is more explicit and there would be just too much conflict… with [the values Aaishah is teaching at home] and also why would I expose my children to that?” (p. 62). This quote demonstrates her belief that her family’s values are incompatible with the licentiousness of her community. Furthermore, it fits into her larger narrative that social mixing is negative because it creates racial/ethnic and religious conflict. Earlier in the interview, Aishah discussed how she kept her children away from “the types of children and families that inhabited her neighborhood,” so it is clear that differences in race/ethnicity, religion, and culture influence her decision to home educate (p. 62).

Second, English believes that socio-economic differences between Aaishah’s family and the surrounding community also influence her to home educate her children. In the interview, Aaishah compared herself to her neighbors, who she believes do not have the financial capital to properly support their childrens’ educations. For example, she suggests that families who can afford to pay for a tutor are fundamentally different from families who are struggling to afford basic necessities like rent.

For Aaishah, different educational values come along with different socio-economic statuses. For example, she suggests that the other families in her community, particularly the ones of a lower socio-economic status, do not understand or appreciate the importance of education:

I’ve tutored the boy next door for a couple of years… the grandmother will subscribe to the Mathletics or whatever but she won’t follow it up… I guess people don’t want to admit it but she also admits that her education isn’t too well either… Then again, like I said it depends on what you know so I know that in order to be successful in education you have to have that home support with your child (p. 62).

All of these group differences that Aaishah constructs play into her decision to educate her children at home. The interesting thing about Aaishah is that unlike the Muslim families in Habibullah (2004), Aaishah focuses as much on educational quality and the perceived importance of education in her local community as she does on religious differences. Unlike most Australian home educating families, Aaishah uses a formalized curriculum that supports the National Curriculum documents, and she has her children follow the national standardized testing regime. English notes that it is unusual for home educated students to take these tests since they are not required, and she also notes that Aaishah’s children score above the curve on all records. Through her pedagogical remarks as well as her deeply-held Muslim faith, Aaishah demonstrates that she was brought to home education for both academic and religious reasons.

Appraisal: English acknowledges the limitations of her study. Clearly an interview with one woman does not mean that other Muslim home educating mothers are similar to her. However, it is a decent starting point given how few studies there are about Muslim homeschoolers. Furthermore, English says that Aaishah’s interview was a pilot study of the experiences of Muslim home educating families, so we might be seeing more come out of Australia on this topic.

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