A Grilling from Colin…

I just got this email from Colin, who’s taken the trouble to get in touch with me. I’m honoured. But he’s grilled me, and here are my responses in bold. I thought I might as well blog them here, which he suggested I do, so others could read them too…

Hi Asim, I was reading your blog about homeschooling your children and I had a few questions for you. I’ve read all of your entries but found no answers to these questions. Maybe you could make a blog entry out of them.

1. What about the formal studies of history, geography, English literature and Art. Clearly your children are destined for similar professions as you and your wife. Do you not think these have any scholarly value?

We could learn everything from Ancient Chinese, Material Science, Modern day Ethiopia, History of Women’s Rights, Abacus Skills, French Art in the 1920’s, Buddhism, Early History of Judaism, Science of Cricket, Sumo Wrestling Techniques, Chess, Fertilisation Methods in early 18th Century, etc… Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could live forever and learn everything? But we can’t. Knowledge isn’t free. It has a cost – time – our most precious commodity of all.

And thus we need to be selective in what we learn (and learn efficiently).

Study for the sake of study? Well, I could spend the next 20 years learning the 1983 Karachi phone directory – study for the sake of study – but I’d call that a ‘waste of time’. Why? Because I can’t apply that knowledge. That’s a view I take – knowledge is useless unless it’s applied. It’s the application of knowledge that is important. You may disagree, many do.

So, what I’m saying, is that my kids are learning things that I believe they will be most likely to apply constructively in their lives. I believe we’ve taught them how to attain knowledge – for example, my two elder children have learned their Physics A-level pretty much by themselves. So if they want to learn about French Art in the 1920’s, or anything else, they can, if they’re interested (not everything has to be useful – you can do things for pleasure too). But I’m not going to make them learn it as part of their curriculum – they’ll learn it if they want.

2. Did you move back to Malaysia for financial reasons to start the home school was it always part of the plan?

The move to Malaysia was to pursue business opportunities as well as provide an environment that we thought would more likely bring up children with strong moral values.

3. Your wife and yourself are obviously of 99th percentile intelligence. What has been your experience of people with lesser skillsets than yourselves pursuing your aggressive timeline. Is it even possible if you don’t have the majority of the skills yourselves?

My wife is intelligent in most ways. I’m not. For example, when I was seven I failed to get into two private schools despite having tutors to help me.

Regarding other kids, I’m currently teaching an 11 year old who failed to get into a pretty normal school in Malaysia because of his test results. He’s learned in 5 weeks as much maths as what schools teach in about 3 months. I’m hoping he’ll do his 16+ exams when he’s 12, latest 13.

4. You mentioned life skills (cooking, finance etc). How do you ensure these have been transferred correctly.

Kids cook great food, the two elder ones have got iGCSEs in Accounting!

5. I imagine your lifestyle has been met with a wide range of criticisms. I, myself feel I failed my children in educating them in comparison. How have you dealt with the fallout from this radical approach.

I doubt you’ve failed your children at all – everyone has different goals.

I don’t get that much criticism! Apart from my parents who are completely crapping it that some of their grandkids may end up not having degrees!

I only saw my father cry in happiness once – when he found out I got my place at Oxford. For someone who came to the UK as an immigrant with nothing but a suitcase, discriminated racially, it was amazing for him to see his son get a place in the finest education institution in the country. Even to this day I feel absolutely honoured to have studied there – amazing memories and where I met Isabelle – those were good times.

But I want my kids to be able to achieve much greater things, and do more of what they’re really passionate about. And that means having to make certain sacrifices…

Author: Asim Qureshi

Passionate about tech startups, home schooling, barefoot running and squash.

31 thoughts on “A Grilling from Colin…”

  1. Salam Asim,
    “A jaw dropping ‘madness’” was the description I put on my FB wall when I shared about your daring adventure. And I sincerely meant it as a compliment.
    I am grateful to have came across your blog and the above would be my favorite entry so far (cause I have had similar grilling as well).
    Would you be interested to hold a sharing session with the local homeschooling community? We would be honoured if you would be willing to do so. Please say yes.
    Eager to learn more from you and your family,
    Shila Razlan
    An Unschooling mom in KL.

  2. Hi Asif,mujhe bhi bahut nirasa hoto hai ki joa time bekar KE subjects padhne mein waste kare ,woh agar cooking,stitching, farming jaise real life lesson sikhne mein lagaya hota won meri life much better hoti. We all spent a huge portion of our life in useless studies. I don’t want to repeat the same with my kids. So after getting inspiration from you, I am opting for home schooling. And want my kids to learn the skills (academic or non academic )which will be useful to them ( specially cooking) and want them to give all the time to their passion which is not possible with school schedule.
    Please keep on writing and updating us about home schooling. May God bless you and your family with abundance of happiness and good health.

    1. Hi Sunita,
      I am fascinated by what Asim is doing with his children! I have always been a writer/artist, and as a student in college it was hard for me to read 45 pages for astronomy, etc, I ended up taking mostly writing and women’s studies classes, and at the end, I had 136 units, but because I had no interest in maths or sciences, and I am a slow reader, I was choking on needing to read or have somebody read to me, I did not have the right courses so i do not have a degree. I am the only person in my family not to have a degree. A degree would probably not have helped me get a job because of my disability.

      1. Sunita, I really think a degree is nothing but a badge. The knowledged gained in them is rarely applied, and if so, useless. It does help one get a job. Tx for your kind words…

  3. That’s a great interview.

    I think that the most amazing part of this blog and your whole experience is the perceived positive and jovial vibe and lack of ego in your narration and rhetoric.

    Many (if not most) of the regular teachers that I’ve encountered seem to have the exact opposite approach. It was pretty common to hear notations such as “you make grammar mistakes in the 4th grade, you will make ’em forever”, “you have no spatial intuition, be happy with your Cs and Ds in geometry”, worshipping of headmasters and education ministers, bitchering about IQs (althrough I am not aware of any professional IQ testing facilities in my country) – it almost seems that this is just some ideology that is taught in pedagogical universities.

    The funniest thing is that the above-mentioned approach is something that I would theoretically expect from someone with management/banking/entepreneurship background attempting to teach kids, but in this case, it seems to be vice versa. Isn’t generally entepreneurship about identifying the right people instead of working with what the operator gets? Do homeschooling and running businesses at the same time feel a bit like a contrast shower?

    In one of my cases, it once took a tutor several lessons to suppress all the negative outlook (it actually began with a caps-lock tirade about how I will never understand that subject) before beginning very efficient training. I did end up passing the exam, but I’m sure I could have aced it if I never had that cloud of negativity.

    I also heard an opinion that too good teaching can render a person somewhat unprepared for real life and that some bad or even abusive teachers will prepare a student for real life. I don’t subscribe to this point of view at all – the point of teaching is craft curiosity, discipline and general brain power, while soft/social skills are better learned in appropriate social interactions.

    Anyways, you do here an amazing job making the reader motivating and believing in your cause without any cookie-cutter feel-good or boasteful mumbo.

    1. I think homeschool, the way we’ve done it, and entrepreneurship are actually very similar. In both we have a mission and we want the quickest way to get there. I want my kids to get their IGCSE’s, ok, so what’s the quickest way to get there.

      1. It has been so much fun to compare and constrast your ideology and principles to what I have experienced in the school system. If you were ever interested in the ideology of Russian schooling, it’s very simple – take your ideology, flip it 180 degrees, turn it up to 11 and you have it.

        When I first read this, I thought you was just boasting about the academic successes and bashing traditional schooling as a more politically correct way to rationalise it. But after reading this blog thoroughly, I was so impressed and fascinated! It is nothing like motivational jumbo books that are so plentiful. You write in a very unique style that requires some reader introspection, has the strongest points between the lines and just doesn’t work very well in brief snippet reading on e. g. Quora feed. The most amazing thing is that it seemed to actually work, as I am much happier and more motivated working on incoming exams afterwards.

      1. Just want to say I have ‘re read all of your posts word for word a good few times now!) I have been been wanting to homeschool for 3 yrs now but situation isn’t changing….for e.g. the post you did about what makes homeschooling easier….like spacious house, 1 parent home, etc etc…but a lot of those things on the list we don’t have.. ..however I think it makes it easier if you do have those things but not impossible I guess…
        Anyways mashallah reading your posts gives me a lot of confidence so maybe this year is the one to take the homeschooling dive!
        Duas please

      2. Lubna, where there is a will there is a way. You could have all those things on the list and screw up and have none of them and succeed. Good luck, and you have my duas!

  4. Hi Asim,

    Great blogs!

    We strongly believe in homeschooling too. Both me and my wife currently work in secondary schools in England, we completely agree with you that learning at school is not as efficient and productive as most parents think. Students should be taught according to their ability, not age. Our idea is to let our kids work part time (or start their own biz online) and complete A-level at 16 (not as extreme as yours :D). When will you hold the sharing session? We will be back to KL for vacation in August so it would be fabulous if our kids (boy 11 and girl 8) can participate.

    Sam

  5. I had been following you on Quora for a while. I am impressed by your home schooling methods. I had assigned a online tutor for hindi for my five year old son inspired by you. The teacher is teaching in a traditional way of sound and corrusponding words for the first two classes. for example she says A for Apple, b for ball,C for cat for the whole session. I felt it’s a boring method and son is already bored. He skipped the sounds after the halfway of the class. I want the teacher to teach him as if we teach our children to learn to speak. Introducing words and sentences, so that they will learn quickly, at least for half of the session. I am focusing only on speaking skills from the class, as I am able to teach him to read and write. What is the best method of learning a language? How does your kids teachers teach them?

    1. Anusha, make the tutor simply speak to the kids in Hindi! And don’t let him/her give a lesson. The session, not lesson, should be 99% in Hindi. If the tutor talks too much English tell him/her to stop.

      Alternatively, fire the tutor, and get your aunt to speak over Skype with your child.

  6. Hi thanks for the great blog! Just one question, do you think it is a major problem that your children do not have a very close knit group of friends? I believe being in school for long hours like us in formal schools helped us to develop strong friendships.

  7. That’s a great interview, and the whole blog is an amazing read for both parents and students alike. Really strong and crisp points, no disdain towards “lesser” pupils.

    I would add one more grilling question – is teaching really more fun than, for example, investment banking?

    1. Nikita, tx! I hated my time in investment banking.

      One more thing, I don’t teach much at all. I spend around 15 mins a day max explaining questions in maths and physics that the kids can’t do.

      1. Well, I have meant teaching in general vs. investment banking in general.

        According to the earlier posts, there was much more teaching involved at the earlier stages of homeschooling as well as organisational/motivational efforts, which enabled the work ethic for self studying. Was that the case?

        Honestly, I think your homeschooling story deserves a book rather than a blog.

      2. Nikita, you’re right!, There was more teaching early on. And of course it was way more enjoyable than investment banking!

        The challenge for self study, the work ethic, I feel, is simply selling the vision. My daughter is working flat out, I feel sorry for her and have told her that (nice for her to get some empathy), but she knows that in a month she will, as a 12 year old never have to study hard again (apart from one last time in a year). She knows that I studied hard until I was 22, and while we all wish she could play around, it’s a sacrifice she’s prepared to make.

        I’ve done the same with a 12 year old boy that I teach maths to. But I barely teach him. I spend 5 mins a day telling him about the vision – that he gets an A* in maths aged 13. Everybody will think he’s a genius, and we’ll have a laugh by arranging a meeting with the headmistress of the school that recently rejected him. And so he’s working hard to achieve his A*…

        Book? I doubt it’d sell much! And a blog is more accessible, will be more widely read, easier to update – the journey has just begun as the more interesting part will be how the kids move from study to entrepreneurship aged 12 to 14…

  8. Hello, My name is Meghana and I am a 10th grader from California. As a person very interested in education reform, your blog has interested me a lot. I understand your children are doing exceptionally well academically- what are the main reasons why? You talked about having personalized education, less time going back and forth from school, but is that all the difference- having learned Spanish for 3 years, I am barely able to hold a conversation with a native speaker, yet I’m considered one of the better students in Spanish at my school in Spanish honor society- your children speak 5 languages. I can’t help but think that there is something else making the difference- what do you do differently to attain this high level of acadamic achievement in math, physics, language, etc.
    And, to someone who is definitely not going to get homeschooled, what is your advice to maximize efficiency and learning while attending high school?

    1. Meghana, main reason the kids are doing exceptionally well is that they work intensively on one or two exams at a time, and they learn through past papers (ie practicing) and not by being lectured. In the case of languages they’ve done well simply because they talk twice a week for 30 mins.

      For school-goers, I’d advise focusing study around past papers where possible.

  9. Assalaam alaikum,
    I have a 4 year old and 2.5 year old, when do you think is a good time to start homeschooling? Is there a curriculum you followed? Please share that as well. So proud of your kids!!

    1. Sanaa, salaams, the curriculum is dictated by the goals. So early on it’s just learning maths to IGCSE level, and learn the languages.

      Once their English and reasoning is good enough, then start focusing on exams.

      Sabeen, our youngest, started when she was 5. But she went to nursery before then, so I guess the age to start is between 3-5. I mean teach what your kids can grasp – the earlier the better.

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