Dr. Peter Davies, Job Coach at Taaleem ul Islaam Academy

Dr Peter Davies is a learning and leadership coach with a special interest in the impact of religious belief on school culture. He has worked in Massachusetts for the Department of Education and was a major contributor to school review as part of the “No Child Left Behind” legislation.  He has also worked as an inspector for the Office of Standards in Education (OFSTED) in the UK and the Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau (DSIB) in the UAE. He is a Senior Coach with the National Institute for School Leadership (NSIL) in the USA.  Prior to the Pandemic, Peter served with The Aga Khan Education Service (AKES) as Head of Quality in Education, in East Africa and Central Asia. He is a passionate, lifetime educator and learner. He currently works as a freelance tutor and counselor online and is the leadership coach at Taaleem ul Islaam Academy where he is also a Board member.


Exposure to the correct use of the English language is one key to improving literacy. An all-through K12 academy in Nairobi has adopted some novel approaches.

Taaleem ul Islaaam Academy (TUI-A) is an all-thorough Muslim school offering both secular learning and preparation for Muslim adulthood. These aims can at times appear conflicting and much has been written elsewhere about core beliefs versus scientific understanding.

As with Christian schools, or indeed any orthodox religious school, these differences in understanding will surely always be there.  TUI-A prefers to accept them (‘to work with them’ if you will) believing they add great richness to the school community; a covert curriculum of acceptance and diversity.

For example, the Islamic curriculum teaches students the soft skills of sharing, integrity, and compassion.  They also learn rich and accurate language use from an early age, through their Qur’anic studies.  There is so much that is synchronized across the two curriculums that conflicting elements rarely hinder. The overlapping of lessons from the secular and Islamic curriculums in both writing and speaking, is, of course, challenging. The difficult Arabic script and language develop slowly, and the misuse of the English language prevails as it does in any school, and amongst adults at large. The acquired Qur’anic language skills and the exposure to linguistics, sadly appear not to transfer to the use of English language conventions:

“Good morning,” I say to Year 9, “how are you doing”. I find myself guilty too!

I’m doing good,” says one girl.

This sloppy use of the English language, coupled with the generalization of descriptive terms and verbs, to words like ‘nice’ and ‘going’ and even ‘thing’, threatens the richness of the language, despite the welcome innovation of new words, particularly from digital pedagogy.

TUI-A teachers talk with the students about the correct use of the simple language that we all misuse and try to be good rôle models.  They practice in groups from K2 using corrective flash cards and put together correct constructions: “How are you [doing]?: I’m well [doing good], thank you”

Some examples of corrective flash cards include: | Butch and I were discussing this problem, and Butch goes, “But you promised you`d do it.” Then I go, “Well, now I don’t.” So Butch goes, “That`s not fair; a promise is a promise.” | Then my mom goes, `Will you kids stop fighting!` and I go, `We aren`t fighting.  My mum says “Well I’m doing supper – you do the table.”

“Pass me that thing (the wheel brace) for undoing the wheel (nuts) now,” his father said.

Reviewing language development is instructive. Arabic script is beautiful, and the language derives its purest meaning directly from the Qur’an.  In another example, “High German” derives from medieval German; it is regarded as the cream of the pudding of German linguistics. High German is spoken not so much in Germany but in Switzerland and Austria. Also, by comparison, “Pure Swahili” is most commonly heard in Tanzania, rather than Kenya or Uganda.  But in the English-speaking world, we struggle to identify “High” English, anywhere!

So, TUI-A introduced “The High English Essay Competition” a competition in which participants in Y9 – Y11 respond to a thought-provoking prompt in any way they want, but responses must be in what the school is calling High English, (perhaps the first use of the term!). The latest ‘prompt was an interesting old sign a teacher photographed on a wall in Winchester, UK:


The winner wrote a nearly perfectly crafted High English essay on the social history of tuberculosis. The image prompt for the current semester is under discussion. The simple image of a national flag, perhaps Palestine or Israel has been suggested.

In addition to the High English competition, the school introduced a lightly competitive whole-school spelling ‘bee’ in place of Friday afternoon lessons.  Kindly, Kenyan weather allows the whole school (organized in year and ‘house’ groups) to take part on the outside sports court.  It creates a vibrant shape to the end of the week and engages the school as one body, proving very popular with students, and engaging all staff in planning, or supervising, and supporting.  Friday afternoons now alternate between secular and Qur’anic quizzes, reinforcing the integrated culture.

The changed organization of Friday afternoons was spurred on by PLC discussion of the concern many students failed to achieve their best because they were exhausted by early journeys to school and thirteen lesson days;  they are serious about accommodating secular curriculum time;  they are serious about their students learning the Q’uran and all the good edicts flowing from it.  So, they needed to put something more in place than the welcomed Friday afternoon variety to address burnout.

Over-teaching and the Siesta

Through the PLC discussion and research, they came to realize that they were over-teaching. They looked for timetable solutions, but every curriculum study seemed to jostle for time. So, rather than robbing Peter to pay Paul, for timetable adjustments, they introduced a daily one-lesson ‘siesta break’ for all classes. During siesta time students return to their home rooms to rest. Many can be seen with their heads on their hands on the desk in restorative sleep, others sit quietly, praying, reading, or playing word games.  The PLC has even discussed making ‘desk sleeping pillows’ in soft materials and designs, as part of an extra curriculum activity.

Sometimes it takes unusual imagination and risk to create the best culture for learning. TUI-A staff will be interested to read in K12 Digest or communicate with other fully integrated dual curriculum schools about how they assure quality learning and manage their time.

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