By Syeda Shehrbano Kazim, WEEKLY PULSE MAGAZINE, September 30, 2013
This week-end I had a chance to visit Ecole des Lumieres, nicknamed “Ecole” by the parents, for their fall semester orientation. Walking into Ecole is a bright and cheerful experience; Smiling children tumbling on a jumping castle, parents sipping tea and eating cookies, more children giggling on the slide, and others eagerly trying to get to the top of the climbing wall. There were kids from all over the world as they actually already have children from nine countries.
It was a pleasure meeting Nadia Lehzam, their Principal and co-founder who is French and holds a Masters degree from Sciences Po Paris. She decided to open her own school in Islamabad after marrying a Pakistani-American who encouraged her in this project. She obviously spends a lot of time herself with the children and seems to know everything about each of them, from their learning style to their sleeping routine and eating habits. Parents of an adorable 2 year old tell me that one of the things they appreciate most about the school is how accessible Mrs. Lehzam is in contrast with other schools where you almost need to battle with the staff to have a word with the principal. Mrs. Lehzam has an open door policy and she welcomes suggestions and advice from parents.
When asked what the toughest part in running a school in Islamabad was, she replied “When I started this school I wanted to reproduce a family atmosphere, where the transition from home to school would be much easier for children. Finding precisely the right teachers took us months! But I am glad we took this much time to find the well groomed and like-minded teachers we have today. In return we pay them the highest salaries of Islamabad, around Rs.40,000 per month.”
Later on, she had an interesting answer when quizzed about the methods and curriculum of the school, “Many schools in Pakistan use the Montessori system. However, this system is not really adapted to the style of education parents give to their children here. Parents in Pakistan are very hands on and children are directed and told what to do in almost every aspect of their daily lives, whereas the Montessori system is based on freedom and the ability of the children to make decision on their own. A child who is used to being told what to do will feel completely lost in the Montessori system, where they are expected to decide what they will be doing every day.”
Research shows indeed that a lack of structure tends to result in disruptive behaviour where children are often called “hyperactive” when in reality they are just lost and don’t understand or know what they should be doing. Nadia goes on: “We use the Creative Curriculum, which involves a daily routine that the children learn progressively. Thanks to the routine they know what to expect and this limits occasions for tantrums. At our school children rarely cry or make a scene because they feel safe at all times and are reassured about what is coming next.”
Mrs. Fariha Aman, the mother of a 3 year old, says: “Since Aleena joined the play group we found a lot of positive change in her. She is interacting more than she was doing earlier. She practices whatever she learns at school. Aleena sings a number of poems, plays different creative games, names body parts, animals, shapes, she has also become more organised like cleaning up her room, etc … Her teachers are becoming role models for her and on a number of occasions she gives their reference saying “teacher says do it this way”. We are quite satisfied with her performance. We really appreciate the hard work and dedication of Ecole’s team. We wish you all the best”
There may actually be a medical argument for Pakistani schools to emulate French teaching methods and management in schools as a much-debated article by Marilyn Wedge examines why “at least nine per cent” of school-aged kids are diagnosed with ADHD in the U.S. — she calls it an epidemic – while in France the rate is less than 0.5 per cent. She says French children are raised with enforced limits; better eating habits and a family hierarchy in which parents are in charge. “As a therapist who works with children, it makes perfect sense to me that French children don’t need medications to control their behaviour because they learn self-control early in their lives,” Wedge writes.
Mrs. Lehzam also speaks four languages – English, French, Arabic and Spanish — and at Ecole des Lumieres they teach children, English, French and Urdu which enables them to easily communicate with two thirds of the world’s population. This should make it very easy for Ecole’s students in their later lives to study and work abroad, in countries like Canada, Australia, United States, England and France.
Today research indicates that the optimum time to learn a new language without difficulty, without an accent, and with proper syntax is before 7 years of age. An infant comes into the world with universal language capabilities, able to perceive all the sounds in all the approximately 3,000 languages. But very quickly, if children are not exposed to the correct sounds by the age of 5 their ability to hear and acquire the right pronunciation gets reduced considerably. Mrs. Lehzam says that speaking so many languages really opened the world to her and she felt at home during her time in countries as varied as England, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Syria and Egypt. Thus she believes children should be put in contact with several languages as early as possible. Ecole des Lumieres is also the only school in Islamabad to offer to teach a third language to children in their early years. This is because teaching young children a new language requires specific methods and the presence of native speakers. Nadia also says that because she is learning Urdu herself, she is constantly aware of how it feels to be learning a new language.