SHARJAH // After seeing how the school system in Sharjah worked, Maryam Ismail was dismayed. When her daughter Ayesha could not read after finishing first grade, it was the last straw.
Mrs Ismail removed her daughter from school and decided to teach her at home, following the Calvert programme.
When she was a teacher, Mrs Ismail and others were encouraged to give pupils fake grades. As a parent, she paid high school fees and school timings meant her children needed to wake up at 4am. There was also a problem with bullying.
"Parents want all their kids to get 99 per cent, and if they get 98 per cent you see them coming in and arguing," the 28-year-old American said. "So then they would boost grades. At my first job teaching Grade 6, 7 and 8 boys, a teacher told me the marks I gave them were too low. They raised them all 25 points."
She said children at her daughter's school made fun of her skin colour and hair.
"Who wants their kids to go through that?" she said. "Or pay Dh30,000 to put their kids through that? Free, maybe, but pay for abuse, that's crazy."
Three years after she made the decision to home educate her daughters, Khadija and Ayesha, the girls have had more time to learn Arabic, read novels, take calligraphy lessons, and make friends - all on their own time schedule.
"They consider it a threat to be told they will be made to go to school," Mrs Ismail said.
The children are also given a winter holiday instead of a summer one so that when it is too hot to go outside, they can stay home and study. Right now the girls are taking final exams. "I felt the kids were not served well in school," Mrs Ismail said. "A lot of parents said it doesn't matter if they were learning, if they have friends, and some religion, and are safe. I can get all that at home."
Many of her acquaintances are surprised by her decision. "When they hear I home-school my kids they gasp," she said. "They see it as a bad thing. They get scared, they say 'What do they do all day? And they need friends'.
"My kids have plenty of friends. And they are learning a lot more than they did in school."