JEDDAH: Natalie Komitsky has lived in Saudi Arabia for the past six years. She moved with her Makkah-born husband from the US to Riyadh and later to Jeddah.
Komitsky works as a writer, editor and learning coach while looking after her three children, aged between four and 11. Wanting to provide them with one of the best possible education options anywhere in the world, she, like others, chose home schooling — when parents or tutors teach accredited curriculums to their children instead of sending them to school.
She made this choice while living in the US so she could include Islamic studies in the curriculum, but decided to continue the program after moving to Saudi Arabia.
In many countries there are accredited home-schooling options that offer parents the freedom to explore individual interests and tailored areas of study; an opportunity to nurture and provide individual attention to your child; impart family values throughout the learning process and intimate involvement, knowledge and guidance regarding the child’s education.
But parents in Saudi Arabia find it difficult to find the resources because this form of teaching is not recognized.
“Expatriates are very frustrated,” said Komitsky. “They’d like to home-school, but they get frustrated with the lack of resources and educational opportunities. They end up searching a lot to fill that void.” Komitsky made the difficult choice for a number of reasons.
The first, Komitsky said, is that it is an ideal situation. There is one teacher per student (or no more than two or three depending on family size). It is additionally helpful when the teacher is intimately familiar with the student and can therefore understand when the child has sufficiently grasped a concept or, when it would be best to back off and try again at a later date.
“When needed, a tutor can provide instruction for specific subject areas. This was the way that people have been educated for most of human history,” says Komitsky.
In addition to that, home-schooling is seen as the best choice in the US among Muslim families wanting their children with a good foundation in English and Arabic, and most importantly, a practical application of Islam — especially in parts of the United States where the number of Muslims who want such opportunity is too small to sustain an accredited, private Islamic primary educational system.
Other reasons why parents home-school are when they have children with special needs or when they cannot afford the price of private school education.
When Komitsky and her husband returned to Saudi Arabia, she continued to home-school her children and encouraged others to do the same.
“I created an e-mail account called KSA home-schoolers and another called Muslim home-schoolers worldwide,” explains Komitsky. “At one point I had a bookstore in my home that included fictional and non-fiction children’s books.”
Komitsky held a weekly group meeting with other children who were home-schooling to do home activities, but she soon started noticing that her children were facing barriers they never experienced when home-schooling in the US.
“Children make friends here and their identity is tied to their school whether Arabic, Islamic focused or Western-culture focused,” said Komitsky.
She also noted that children put so much emphasis on the income level. “That’s been a huge barrier for my children in particular,” she added.
To facilitate a good environment for children educated at home, good resources are required. Also, children need different outlets to socialize with their peers. These are two factors that frustrate parents who home-school their children in Saudi Arabia.
Michael Smith, president of the Home School Legal Defense Association in the US, reported in The Washington Times recently that home-schooled students, on average, outperform their public school peers.
“The most recent study, ‘Home-school Progress Report 2009,’ conducted by Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute, surveyed more than 11,000 home-schooled students. It showed that the average home-schooler scored 37 percentage points higher on standardized achievement tests than the public school average,” wrote Smith.
Based on studies, Smith states home-schooled students, typically identified as being high academic achievers, can also make the grade in society.
“Home-school families are leading the way in Canadian and American education, and this new study clearly demonstrates home-school parents are on the right path,” he wrote.
But in Saudi Arabia that path often leads to a dead end.
A mother of three children, who requested to remain anonymous, took her two boys out of school for one year when they expressed their interest in home-schooling. After a year of home-schooling, she wanted to enroll them back to school, but the school refused to take them.
“They didn’t agree on taking them back because there was no official record of the one year of home-schooling,” she said. “We had to go to the Ministry of Education to get a letter that allows my kids back to school.
The ministry doesn’t recognize or even understand home-schooling. It was extremely difficult,” said the mother.
Komitsky says that the availability of materials for home-schooling is also a big challenge in the Kingdom.
“Many families come to Saudi Arabia with the intention to live under an Islamic government where their children can master Arabic and be enriched by observing the daily application of the Qur’an and Sunnah by its people,” she said. “Unfortunately, they join others in their frustration of unsuccessful attempts to find schools that fit their needs.”
For home-schooling to get recognized in Saudi Arabia and for the process to become smoother for parents, Komitsky suggests establishing a liaison office that oversees this education alternative.
“They could administer standardized tests to assess incoming students’ academic standing; and provide the Ministry of Education certified proof of progress testing for Saudi and non-Saudi families who choose to provide for their children’s education independently,” says Komitsky.
This step, adds Komitsky, would likely lead to more local businesses providing educational resources for families and it would encourage the development of educational activity centers where families could go to learn about God’s creation in an exciting and entertaining way.
“With the extreme situation that’s being faced by the ministry due to population increase, I am confident that alternative education solutions will be considered and will benefit all of the students in the Kingdom, elevating it to the highest of standards, ensuring the economic prosperity of the nation,” said Komitsky.