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ucationeducationeduc education

A New Model

Yamima Mitha sets a high standard of learning with her revolutionary Montessori and primary school, Mazmoon-i-Shauq. By Ayesha Siddiqa


eople want to make money or earn fame, but Yamima Mitha is different. She wants to create a community of youngsters who can be passionate about life. She wants to create a

circle of dreamers who have shauq, which she describes as a combination of interest, hobby, passion and obsession. Yamima’s greatest gripe is that these days very few people in Pakistan have any such interests or zest for life. So, in the year 2000, she decided to build a Montessori and primary school that could teach children how to be passionate, how to dream and how to develop shauq. Located in the posh F-8/3 sector in Islamabad, the school draws attention due to its very unusual name. In a world where

Friendly faces: A teacher of

Mazmoon-i-Shauq with the principal, Kausar, (right) known as Kow Khala to the schoolchildren.

people are fond of keeping foreign names

don’t really do these days: help build a

for their schools, the name Mazmoon-i-

child’s character, alongside teaching them

Shauq seems very odd. I remember pass-

to read and write.

ing by the place and wondering what it was

Mazmoon-i-Shauq is bilingual – the me-

all about. And I probably would never have

dium of instruction being both English and

bothered to find out about the place had it

Urdu – and in addition to the regular course,

not been for the children of two very dear

the school offers dance and music, and pre-

friends, Tariq Mehmood and Anandi, who

pares its pupils to become well-rounded,

were spending a year away from England,

tolerant human beings.

studying at Yamima’s school. They were my

so enthralled with the concept that at the

Many would be (and are) uncomfort-

first introduction to this rather interesting

first opportunity, I encouraged a family

able with the notion of bilingual medium

institution in my neighbourhood. Once I ex-

member to send her child there. The place

of instruction. In a country where the elite

perienced the school first hand, I became

was unique in that it did what other schools

feel they are distinct from the have-nots,

92 | Newsline October 2009

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because they converse in English, it may

groom their personalities. “Children learn

is spoken by most people in an urban cen-

not seem proper to put your kid in a school

the most and the fastest in their mother

tre like Islamabad. For those worried about

where they are taught in their national lan-

tongue,” says Yamima. Additionally, she

overburdening the children with too many

guage, along with English. In fact, this is one

wants to have a school where the children

languages, Yamima’s explanation is that the

reason that the school is still fighting a bat-

are not conscious or embarrassed speak-

cells in a human brain are most receptive to

tle to survive. According to Yamima when

ing their native language and will, simultane-

learning languages between ages 2-12 and

she opened the school in 2000, she thought

ously, learn other languages. This was her

so the kids can be taught multiple languag-

that people would be falling over each other

little struggle to stop the Americanisation of

es. The advantage of learning multiple or

to get their children admitted in her school.

Pakistan’s culture.

even two languages is that it gives children

Nine years later, she still struggles from





varied perspectives on life. But back to her decision of keeping the school bilingual, Yamima Mitha maintains that the most important rule of Montessori training is that children learn more in their native language. This is one way that they will naturally take to learning. Besides, what she learnt from her Gujrati-speaking father, whose medium of instruction at the Cathedral School in Bombay was English, was that it deprived him of a lot of things. For instance, you don’t learn about your writers, poets and other significant personalities. Not surprisingly, Mazmoon-i-Shauq’s main room displays photographs of local heroes and heroines, such as Kishwar Naheed, Jahangir Khan and Dr Abdus Salam. No

The three Montessori levels at Mazmoon-i-Shauq do not have foreign names but are called “Chooza” (chicks), “Toota” (parrot) and “Moor” (peacock). Through another school, Mitha learnt that children needed to have names that made them feel at home and comfortable with their environment. Also, this is the only school where older female teachers are addressed as khala, the younger ones as aapa and the male teachers as bhai.

other school can boast of introducing chil-

one month to the next to keep the school up

complain about Urdu being selected as

to do is to build a community which is con-

and running. “The idea of closing down the

the mother tongue. However, one cannot

nected with its own and the rest of the world

venture comes every six months but then

disregard the practicalities of running a

at the same time. Language helps bridge

we move on because of the resolve that if

school. Yamima would love to teach Punjabi,

the generational gap as well, because then

madrassas can survive in this country, then

Sindhi, Pashto or other national languages

children know the language that their grand-

why can’t a good school?” she confides in

but cannot due to paucity of funds. At one

parents also speak, which makes communi-


point, she did experiment with Punjabi but

cation wholesome.

dren to the stars that our regular syllabus ignores. One would expect such an educated decision for her school from Yamima, whose masters thesis from the UK in 1983 was on the medium of instruction in post-colonial societies. Generally, people use language as a tool for social mobility and forget about the needs of the soul. Yamima believes that the language issue in Pakistan is critical, since the elite want to monopolise the English language to stay ahead of the rest of the population. Therefore, Mazmoon-iShauq offers language as an equaliser and its students are not ashamed of speaking in their own language. What Yamima hopes

So why not make it strictly English me-

that was mainly due to the availability of

The three Montessori levels do not

dium? This is because Mazmoon-i-Shauq

a teacher who had the expertise in teach-

have foreign names but are called “Chooza”

proposes to teach kids and alongside

ing Punjabi. Urdu was selected because it

(chicks), “Toota” (parrot) and “Moor” (pea-

Newsline October 2009 | 93

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cock). Through another school, Yamima

them expert dancers and singers, but to

studying there, the school might have shut

learnt that children needed to have names

ensure that they have a good ear for music

down. Some of the parents are also mem-

that made them feel at home and comfort-

and have taken that first step towards danc-

bers of the school board, which raises funds

able with their environment. Also, this is the

ing. From this perspective, the school is a

and pays for students that cannot pay a high

only school where older female teachers

bridge between dance and music as an idea

fee. Uzma Haroon, whose son is in class five

are addressed as khala, the younger ones

and its realisation.

– which is the final year in the school – won-

as aapa and the male teachers as bhai.

Although an elite school located in one

ders if her son will ever find a similar environ-

But this emphasis on two languages

of the poshest neighbourhoods in the capi-

ment elsewhere. I talked to another parent,

does not mean that the children lag be-

tal, the school is not really restricted to the

Tayyaba Tariq, whose five-year-old daughter

hind in English. In fact, the rule is that in the classes, especially from one to five, teach-

Mazmoon-i-Shauq’s main room displays photographs of local heroes and heroines, such as Kishwar Naheed, Jahangir Khan and Dr Abdus Salaam. No other school can boast of introducing children to the stars that our regular syllabus ignores.

ers teaching Urdu will only respond in Urdu and those instructing in English will respond only in English. More importantly, the school offers real education. The children learn religious studies rather than just Islamiat, but with an emphasis on Islam since almost 95 percent of the children are Muslims. In fact, the day I dropped by the school at 8:30 a.m., a father of one of the students had been invited to teach the children hamd. However, the focus is on teaching them comparative religions, from the perspective of instructing the young minds in the commonalities among religions rather than emphasising the differences. Additionally, to give them

ordinary. In fact, two of the students come

had moved from an Army Public School to

an understanding of the philosophy of reli-

from lower-middle-class backgrounds; their

Mazmoon-i-Shauq about five months ago.

gion rather than teaching them rituals with-

fee is paid for by the school board. The

According to her, the school built up her

out any understanding. Interestingly, the

teachers make an effort to integrate them

child’s confidence very rapidly, explained

children are provided all available explana-

with the rest of the students.

concepts clearly and taught religion in a

tions of the Creation, including the Big Bang

Ideally speaking, one would expect

manner that the child wouldn’t be biased

theory, Darwin’s philosophy and the infor-

Mazmoon-i-Shauq to be a favourite place

against other religions. She was most en-

mation contained in religious scriptures.

for Islamabad’s liberal elite, who want to

amoured of the school policy of making

Of course, there is a practical side of this

encourage liberalism and progress in soci-

teachers and the principal accessible to

learning as well: the school encourages chil-

ety. In that sense, the school is also a test

the students. Unlike other schools, here,

dren to celebrate all religious and cultural

of the mental and emotional liberation of the

the children can approach the principal or

festivals such as Eid, Christmas, Diwali and

people. Resultantly, Yamima Mitha and her

any teacher at any time. Similarly, Shumaila,

Basant. I was told that Mazmoon-i-Shauq’s

school have to struggle for their survival.

who is a working mother, was thrilled that

basant celebrations are a week-long af-

She cannot really compete in the market

she had admitted her three-year-old son to a

fair, during which they are taught about the

since she cannot pay as much to the teach-

school that would help him blossom.

background to the Basant celebrations, the

ers as other schools do. Few, like herself,

I have a personal stake in seeing

various ways of celebrating and the tradi-

are willing to teach for free or for a nomi-

Mazmoon-i-Shauq succeed. Not because I

tion of kite-flying, along with its history and

nal sum. But despite the pressures, Mitha

have children of my own who study there,

its prevalence in the Moghul era.

doesn’t compromise on standards. For in-

but because I believe that this country

Familiarising the students with the coun-

stance, she conducted nearly 60 interviews

needs places of learning which connect

try’s indigenous culture is a fundamental

of potential teachers to ensure that they

the youth to their roots, as well as provide

part of the school’s philosophy. The children

met her standards and understood the ba-

them a friendly window to the multiple other

are taught Bharata Natyam by Yamima’s

sic philosophy of the school. She doesn’t

worlds. If Pakistan is looking for solutions

mother, the renowned dancer Indu Mitha.

want to hire anyone who is looking to force

to its problems, then education – especially

They also learn to sing and to play instru-

stereotypical norms on the impressionable

a balanced and well-grounded education as

ments like the tabla, sitar and harmonium.

minds of children.

we see in Yamima Mitha’s school – is the an-

Yamima explains that the idea is not to make

94 | Newsline October 2009

Had it not been for the parents of those

swer. Will people help it survive? n

Ayesha Siddiqa  
Ayesha Siddiqa