Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Investment in Islamic Schools

This was part of a talk given at Curtin University Dec 13
As Muslims living in the West we do well to look at our colleagues to see how they have progressed. Christian and Jewish schools have developed their schools by investing in them – often through leaving substantial inheritance in shares, property or what we would call Waqf.  Of course
we can only leave up to one third of our will towards beneficial causes and not our family, but this one third could provide sadaqa jaariah – provision in the grave, for every student who studies in the school we would obtain a benefit.

Sadaqa Jariah is one of the wonderful aspects of Islam. We all know the hadith from Sahih Muslim:
“If a human dies, then his good deeds stop except for three: a Sadaqa Jariah (continuous charity), a beneficial knowledge, or a righteous child who prays for him.”

Sadaqa Jariah could be a tree that you plant to give fruit to travellers. Under the Ottoman Empire public water spouts were made available by the Sultan – many are still in use today. If the intention was for Sadaqa Jariah, the Sultan would receive benefit in his grave for every person who drinks from the free water, just as each traveller who benefits from the fruit of the tree planted provides benefit to the original planter in the grave.

Of course investment should come initially from the parents of a school – through paying the actual cost of delivering the kind of education that we need for our  children. Private schools that are well to do, have magnificent grounds, swimming pool, sporting facilities and extensive libraries charge well over $25,000 annually. Our Muslim schools currently have difficulty obtaining a few thousand annually in school fees – not much more than the cost of registering a car. Education is free in public schools, but is only subsidized in private schools – on average only up to 60% of the cost of a public school student (in 2010 this was $9800-$10,000). To equal at least the standard of a public school, this means that parents must pay the difference – or help in fundraising to pay the difference. Buildings and infrastructure are an additional cost again. Unfortunately many Muslim parents complain when asked to pay fees, pay their fees sporadically, claim hardship (even when there is no real hardship) or pay late, putting the financial viability of the school at risk.

The second thing we really need to do is invest in our teachers. They are the people who deliver the kind of education that will inspire our children, or turn them against learning and with low self-esteem. School boards must invest in quality training, right from the time the teacher is employed by inducting them, training them in what we want, what our vision is and then continuing with that training. Sister Aminah – who has been doing research on comparing public and private schools - had a brilliant idea that teachers from our Muslim schools should work in other quality schools for 6 months or a year as an arrangement between schools systems. In this way, new and better ideas can be brought in and incorporated. I have found that many Australian schools are really willing to support us, really willing to help us lift our game. In the Catholic education system, I have always been impressed with Mary Mackillop – how she went out and established the first Catholic school systems and fought for Catholic education at the beginning of the 20th century. In speaking with some of the leaders from the Catholic university they said ‘look, the best way for you to go is set up a teachers institute and go from there into university now that you’ve got your schools - and we can help you. We’re prepared to help you’. Why are we not taking up the offer? Everybody is willing to help us, but often we are not willing to help ourselves.

Support for teachers begins with the School Board. Unfortunately not all School Boards really appreciate or even are aware of the enormous effort made by many of their staff. I have seen where there was a kindergarten teacher who had 45 kids in her class and 80% of them couldn’t speak English because they came from overseas. She wanted an assistant to help her and some members of the School Board did not support her. They even called their staff ‘rubbish’. This woman was not a Muslim, she was a regular Australian but she loved those kids, and just wanted to look after them doing the right thing. She was working many hours more than an average teacher would. I was very surprised that she was prepared to put up with the treatment and throught to myself “Why is she still here?” I believe it was because she had a vision which the Board didn’t have even though they didn’t give her a pay rise, and they didn’t recognise the value of her work. When the class was split in two and two teacher assistants were provided because they couldn’t speak English, the School Board reversed the decision and provided only one assistant to the combined class. Is this the best way to run our schools? Do these decisions show that the best interests of the students are behind decisions by such School Boards? Unfortunately, in many cases, the answer is no.

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